Brief description of Kitora Tumulus

114Paintings of Chinese zodiac images with animal heads on human bodies have been found only at Kitora Tumulus among all tomb murals in Japan.

A salient characteristic of Kitora Tumulus is the depiction of Chinese zodiac figures drawn as animal heads on human bodies. Their Chinese attire is drawn in the colors of each direction according to the theory of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements. They hold weapons in hand, a characteristic unseen in representations in China and said to be possibly the influence of Buddhism or the Korean Peninsula.

The reason zodiac images were drawn at Kitora Tumulus

In ancient China, celestial maps and images of the four directional deities, plus dolls (effigies) of zodiac figures were placed as expressions of the coffin being positioned at the center of a virtual world. At Kitora Tumulus, in place of effigies the zodiac figures were drawn on murals, and are thought to have served as guardian gods protecting the soul of the interred from evil spirits.

The six zodiac images that can be confirmed

Of the twelve zodiac figures, those confirmed at Kitora Tumulus are the rat, ox, tiger, horse, dog, and boar. Some are faint, and the horse image was found transferred onto the mud that covered the wall.

The remaining six figures are inferred from zodiac images in other countries.

It is not known how the six unconfirmed figures were drawn, but they they can be imagined to some degree based on zodiac images of China and the Korean Peninsula.