Mount Miwayama is a mountain located in the city of Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, Japan. It has been an important religious and historical mountain in Japan, especially during its early history, and serves as a holy site in Shinto. The entire mountain is considered sacred, and is home to one of the earliest Shinto shrines, Omiwa Shrine. Several burial mounds from the Kofun-era can be found around the mountain.
Archeological and literary records demonstrates that Mount Miwayama was the center of early Yamato power until about the year 350 CE. The Nihon Shoki also records that a thousand Emishi swore alliance to the Yamato court while facing Mount Miwayama.
Religious worship surrounding Mount Miwayama have been deemed the oldest and more primitive of its kind in Japan, where the very mountain itself is designated sacrosanct. The kami generally associated with Mount Miwa is Omononushi (Omono-nushi-no-kami), a rain kami. However, the Nihon Shoki notes that there was a degree of uncertainly when it came to naming the principal kami of Mount Miwayama.
In early Shinto, mountains were regarded as sacred sites where kami reside. Mount Miwa was a particularly prominent example of this. Myths and traditions suggest that Mount Miwa was worshiped for its powerful kami long before recorded history. Even today, the mountain itself is unusual for being revered at Omiwa Shrine as the shintai, or kami-body, whereas virtually all other shrines designate a hall of worship (shinden) for such purposes. The veneration of the mountain itself at Ōmiwa Shrine, as well as symbols and ritual offerings found on the mountain, points to its status as a prominent sanctuary for both locals and Yamato kings alike.
Yamato leaders often ruled from palaces near sacred mountains, and built burial mounds around them. The kami residing on Mount Miwa was judged the most powerful by the Fujiwara clan, and consequently palaces and roads were built in the vicinity.
In a myth from the Nihon Shoki, a princess (Yamato-totohi-momoso) falls in love with a kami from Mount Miwayama. The kami however, would only appear to her at night, and the princess asked him to show her what he looked like. The kami warned her not to be shocked, and agreed to meet her in her bathroom the next morning. When the princess went into her bathroom the next day, she was horrified at the sight of a snake. Furious at her reaction, the kami turned to human form, and ran off to Mount Miwayama. The princess was so distraught at this, that she stabbed herself to death with chopsticks, and is supposedly buried at one of the six mounds near Mount Miwa, the Hashihaka (lit. "chopstick-grave") mound. The Kojiki version of this myth describes a union between a woman from the Miwa clan and Omononushi, resulting in the birth of an early Yamato king. Scholars note that this is a clear effort to strengthen Yamato authority by identifying and linking their lineage to the established worship surrounding Mount Miwayama.
Later in the Nihon Shoki, Emperor Sujin appealed to the kami on Mount Miwa when the country was crippled by disasters. Sujin is said to have received, via a princess, a revelation that the disasters would cease should the kami making the revelation be properly worshipped. When asked which kami was speaking, it was revealed to be Omononushi, who claimed to reside in the borders of Yamato on Mount Miwa. Proper rites were held, and the disasters came to an end.
The serpent seems to play a key role in Miwa worship, as demonstrated by yet another tale from the Nihon Shoki. In this story, a dispute breaks out about which kami truly resides in the mountain, Omononushi, or Uda-no-sumizaka. Emperor Yuryaku then demands a courtier to find out the appearance of the Mount Miwa kami. The courtier went up the mountain and captured a monstrous serpent whose "thunder rolled, and ... eyeballs flamed". Terrified by the huge snake, Yūryaku names it Ikazuchi (lit. "thunderbolt") and orders it released back into the mountain.
ix tumuli have been found in the Shiki area at the base of Mount Miwayama. These earthen mounds were built between 250 CE to 350 CE, and all display the same keyhole shape and stone chambers found in earlier mounds. However, the tumuli found at Mount Miwayama hint at the beginning of a more centralized Yamato state. All six mounds are exceptionally large, twice as large as any similar mounds found in Korea, and contain prolific amounts of mirrors, weapons, ornaments, as well as finely built wood and bamboo coffins.
They are as follows, in order of discovery: Hashihaka mound. Said to be grave of Princess Yamato-totohi-momoso/Nishitonozuka mound/Chausuyama mound/Mesuriyama mound/Andonyama mound, Sometimes called the tomb of Emperor Sujin/Shibutani-muko mound , Sometimes called the tomb of Emperor Keiko