Mimizuka - The Ear Tomb

For many hundreds of years, when Japanese samurai soldiers fought in battles, their pay was determined by the amount of enemies that they had killed. In order to prove the number they had killed, the samurai had to come back with the decapitated heads of their enemies.

In the late 16th Century, when the Japanese army invaded Korea, the order was for no-one to be spared.

Mow down everyone universally, without discriminating between young and old, men and women, clergy and the laity—high ranking soldiers on the battlefield, that goes without saying, but also the hill folk, down to the poorest and meanest—and send the heads to Japan.

With the sheer numbers of civilians that were massacred in the attacks, there was not enough room on the boats back to Japan for all of the severed heads. So, they decided that just the nose of the victim would suffice.

The number of noses shipped across the Sea of Japan would run into the hundreds of thousands and each were painstakingly counted and salted in order to preserve it for the journey.

It is thought that the head of the Japanese army at the time, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, demanded that a shrine be built in 1597, as the attacks against Korea were still ongoing. The shrine would stand to house all of the noses, as well as some of the ears, of the victims of his invasion. Buddhist priests were called to pray for the souls of the Koreans from whose bodies they had come.

The shrine was first known as hanazuka, translated as ‘mound of noses’, but in the years to come, this was deemed as sounding too cruel. So, the apparently less cruel, mimizuka, ‘mound of ears’, was chosen as the name, although technically incorrect as it is officially a monument to the noses.

Built just outside of Kyoto, the Mimizuka is a stone memorial placed on top a 30-foot-tall grassy mound, under which the noses of at least 38,000 Korean people are buried. When Toyotomi Hideyoshi died the following year, a memorial to him was erected within a quarter of a mile of the Mimizuka. Both still stand to this day, although the Mimizuka is not widely known to many Japanese people.