top コラムExhibition ReportVol.32 Hayato Nishimura / 西村勇人 "Mounds"

Exhibition Report

Vol.32 Hayato Nishimura / 西村勇人 "Mounds"

John Sypal

It’s said that over 161,000 kofun - ancient, megalithic tombs- dot the Japanese archipelago. 

Kofun were created to entomb people of status between 300 – 700 A.D., and the largest ones, thought to be tombs of emperors, are nearly 500 meters long, fortified by moats and UNESCO World Heritage Site status.  


Seen in aerial photographs, these gigantic, keyhole-shaped forms, covered by lush vegetation and surrounded by water, make for a striking contrast against the dense urban patchwork they have been encircled by. These are the kofun that appear in Japanese history textbooks and Kansai area guidebooks. The Kofun seen in Hayato Nishumura’s series Mounds, however, do not impose themselves as dramatically on the landscape or contemporary memory. In their own way though they quietly confront viewers with the conundrum of duty to history and suburban, civic necessity.

Built in a variety of forms and sizes these less-spectacular tumuli blend into Japanese cities and modern lives. Most local kofun have a historical marker or placard of some sort- and while some are centerpieces of local parks or topped by Shinto shrines, it seems that for many others, a basic chain-link is often the sole physical buffer between the tomb of a forgotten powerful person and the clutter of a contemporary municipality. 


It’s precisely the way that these tombs are wrapped in an odd mix of historical reverence (a mental buffer) and contemporary practicality that is of interest Nishimura- an interest that has taken him across Japan to document kofun in their current predicaments.


His June 2024 exhibition at RED Photo Gallery in Shinjuku was comprised of about a dozen new color pigment prints from his series. Taking take full advantage of the crispness of digital photography, Nishimura faces his subjects straightforwardly, framing them with just enough wit to prevent the images from becoming either too dry or poetic. His sense of distance allows space to demonstrate both how these kofun exist as time keeps marching on- marching often right up to, if not over and sometimes through the edges of, these tombs. 


While the names and deeds of those laid to rest within have been lost to history we today can try to imagine the grave(!) importance they once commanded.  Picturing the past is easier than seeing into the future. I mean, how could those who built these mounds and mourned the interred ever think that their kofun would ever be relegated to corners of local parks next to playground equipment or near a billboard for a love hotel? 

What would they think? But then again, does it matter? I suspect that this is one of Nishimura’s questions.  In the same vein, another question prompted by these photos is this: what of ours now, will remain? 











2024年6月、新宿のRED Photo Galleryで開催された写真展「Mounds」は、西村さんのシリーズから約12点の新しいカラーの顔料プリントで構成されていました。


















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