Remains of 1,500 people found in Osaka graveyard

Panoramic view of the graveyard from the north. Photo courtesy Osaka City Cultural Properties Association.The remains of more than 1,500 individuals from the 19th century have been discovered in a historic burial ground in Osaka. This is the greatest number of burials ever discovered in one place in the city.

The city has been conducting excavations at the site since 1991. The most recent archaeological survey focused on the eastern end of the burial ground due to a planned expansion of Osaka Station. The site was once known as Umeda Haka (Umeda Grave) and was one of seven major cemeteries in the city of Osaka. It was active from the Edo (1603-1868) to the Meiji era (1868-1912).

Archaeologists unearthed a stone wall noted on an 1890 map that forms the east boundary of the graveyard and more of the north-south wall that was first encountered in the 2016-2017 dig. To the north of the stone wall were hundreds of simple burials. The deceased were interred in shallow pits and covered with about three feet of soil. Multiple bodies were layered on top of each other. These are likely victims of an epidemic who had to be buried quickly. Lesions have been found on their extremities which might be indicative of what killed them. Syphilis is one possibility, as it was known to be widespread in urban centers during the late Edo, early Meiji period.

In the southern section of the cemetery, the team unearthed a large rectangular building with a stone foundation. The cornerstone was set in a trench that was backfilled with bone ash soil. Its purpose is unclear, but archaeologists think it may have been an ossuary. On the north and south sides of the building were a dense grouping of casket burials, including enclosed wooden caskets and circular open containers like barrels. Artifacts found inside the graves include juzudama (prayer beads, combs, clay dolls and rokusenmon (a set of six coins used to pay passage across the river to the afterlife). The team also unearthed a group of about 350 earthenware urns in a depository of bone ash from cremations.

Researchers believe this cemetery was used by the commoners who lived outside the Osaka Castle compound. The average age of death was around 30 years old, and the remains of many children have been found there. Archaeologists hope that analysis of the bones and grave goods will shed new light on the lives of the non-aristocratic people of Osaka who have been sorely neglected in historical records.

The remains and artifacts excavated are now being documented and analyzed. Results of the survey are expected to be published next year.

5 thoughts on “Remains of 1,500 people found in Osaka graveyard

  1. Opposite that wall is some kind of revetment, and what is that wooden fence in the ditch? I spent more time looking at those than the graves.

    I know that these days there is a kind of drippy, mock-romantic view of the past, but it is sobering to think, when being lambasted by the ‘traditionalists’, that many of them would have been long dead had we still followed the traditions.

  2. The more I look at that wall and fence, the more mysterious it seems. Why build a wooden fence between two walls?

    What if the wooden fence were built first? What we see might be the rotted lower level of the fence, and the cemetery wall was later built along the edge of the fence/property line. Why a poor persons’ cemetery would need such a substantial wall, I cannot imagine, unless it was not originally such a cemetery, or a cemetery at all. The stonework on the left, which is much finer, would have to follow the edge of the cemetery if it were the last to be built.

    I think it would have to be that way, because why build a fairly massive stone wall for a poor persons’ cemetery when there was already a wall in place? You do not need a vertical wall, because you do not need to stop anything escaping, unless they already had a problem with body snatchers.

  3. Trevor, here my 2 ct:

    In case the mud started to move, the whole structure may come done, so imagine a Japanese 16th century version of a so-called ‘sheet pile wall‘.

    Also, there are sometimes similar structures to be seen on sandy beaches, i.e. in order to keep the mud in place despite the tide.


    “Sheet pile retaining walls are usually used in soft soil and tight spaces. Sheet pile walls are driven into the ground and are composed of a variety of material including steel, vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass or wood planks. For a quick estimate the material is usually driven 1/3 above ground, 2/3 below ground, but this may be altered depending on the environment. Taller sheet pile walls will need a tie-back anchor, or “dead-man” placed in the soil a distance behind the face of the wall, that is tied to the wall, usually by a cable or a rod. Anchors are then placed behind the potential failure plane in the soil.

    Bored pile retaining walls are built by assembling a sequence of bored piles, proceeded by excavating away the excess soil. Depending on the project, the bored pile retaining wall may include a series of earth anchors, reinforcing beams, soil improvement operations and shotcrete reinforcement layer. This construction technique tends to be employed in scenarios where sheet piling is a valid construction solution, but where the vibration or noise levels generated by a pile driver are not acceptable.”

  4. I can’t understand why they don’t know more. I read this story elsewhere and they think it is from the 1860s or so. Wasn’t there some sort of record or newspaper then? Why the need to dig up and research bodies from 150 years ago? I def am getting cremated.

  5. This question came up for me as well. Maybe the clue is in this sentence in the entry, “Archaeologists hope that analysis of the bones and grave goods will shed new light on the lives of the non-aristocratic people of Osaka who have been sorely neglected in historical records.”

    But how amazing to so completely discount the non-aristocrats that they could suffer an epidemic and no one would make a note of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.