Taira no Masakado’s Head’s Burial Mound 平将門の首塚

In Exploring and Socializing, Japan, Tokyo Yokai and Urban Legends by Pjechorin

Taira no Masakado’s Head’s Burial Mound 平将門の首塚

The Grave Site of the Head of a Man Who’s Actual History is Legendary All On It’s Own

Share this Post

About the Author


Facebook Twitter

I have lived and worked with my family in Japan since 2005. For many years I have been interested in the very practical and creative side of Japanese culture. In my free time I travel around, enjoy hiking in the countryside and cities, and just generally seeing and doing new things. This blog is primarily a way for me to focus my energies and record and teach others about what I have learned by experience constructively. I am interested in urban development, and sustainable micro-economics, especially home-economics, and practical things everyday families can do to survive and thrive through these changing times.

Taira no Masakado’s Head’s Burial Mound

  • Sagami Jirō and Taira no Masakado Attacking an Opponent on Horseback
  • Taira no Masakado's head's burial place is located downtown Tokyo.

He Fought the Law and the Law Won

Taira no Masakado was a prominent member of a warrior family group that, though not aristocrats like the Fujiwara’s, was just four generations removed from the emperor in Kyoto and ten generations removed from the king of Baekje (one of three warring kingdoms in what is now Korea). In the 9th century the area east of Nagoya was considered hinterland as it had just been conquered from local tribes. Let’s call it the wild, wild east. Central control from Kyoto was established but weak against the Nietzian hammer. If someone wanted to challenge the accepted order, there was a chance they could get away with it if they gathered enough power fast enough. One person who gave it a damn good try was Taira no Masakado. However, this try led to the Taira no Masakado’s Head’s Burial Mound (平将門の首塚) which indicates early on that things did not go very well for him.

Taira no Masakado downfall was that he angered his own warrior family by killing his uncle in battle. Afterwards his cousin, the son of the aforementioned uncle was out to get him. Then he took the governorships of several provinces by force, which meant the violent overthrow of the lawfully appointed governors from Kyoto from the powerful aritocrats, the Fujiwara, and rival warrior clan, the Minamoto. Taira no Masakado expanded fast, too fast to hold onto what he had got. Then he did the one thing that would ensure an instant death penalty if he were ever caught. He declared himself emperor in the east. Well the emperor in the west did not take kindly to this!

Eventually Taira no Masakado was killed by some random arrows in a battle and his head was removed and taken back to be displayed outside the palace gates in Kyoto. There it remained for a couple of months. Eventually it was supposed to have been removed and buried in a small hill rising out of Tokyo bay. It is around this head and its burial mound that the legend of Taira no Masakado really begins.

This Is Where Taira no Masakado’s Story Gets Weird

Lets back up a bit. Taira no Masakado’s head is on public display back in Kyoto. According to the legend, his head was extremely belligerent to anybody who showed it the slightest disrespect and was constantly yelling at the passerbies in the street. One day it yelled at some random person, “Hey, where is my body!” The person told him that he was no longer attached and the body was most likely somewhere back east. The head smiled then began to shake, and finally flew free from its spike!

Taira no Masakado’s head flew all by itself back east and was supposedly shot down by an arrow once, the spot is commemorated with a shrine to him. However, his head rose up again and flew all the way back to the little fishing village that would one day become Tokyo. The villagers recognized Taira no Masakado and made a burial mound for his head on a little hill rising out of the bay. The associated shrine there was also a place where locals would come and venerate him with offerings as a kind of local deity (“Kami” in Japanese).

As time went on the small fishing village was claimed for the site of the new capital, Edo, by the new Tokugawa shogun. From the construction of what was to become the world’s biggest castle, the bay was filled in and the little island with its burial mound containing the head of one the most notorious rebels so far in Japanese history, became prime real estate. A Tokugawa finance minister decided to move it, then a series of disasters occurred in the new city and the finance minister died under mysterious circumstances. It was decided to leave the place alone.

Urban Legends About Taira no Masakado’s Head’s Burial Mound

During the time of American occupation it is said that GHQ (General Head Quarters, the American military government of Japan) noticed some very prime real-estate given over to some moldy old grave and set out to remove it to make way for some storage buildings. The bulldozer sent to demolish the grave, ran into the stones surrounding it and flipped over, killing the driver in the process. Thereafter GHQ left the site alone.

Though I have not gone into the he bank headquarters that also owns the site just next door, to confirm this, but apparently all desks face toward the grave of Taira no Masakado. Because to face away could be interpreted as a sign of disrespect which could lead to calamity or the whole city of Tokyo.

When the burial mound was updated to the more conventional grave site that we have today in the 1960s, apparently the stone tomb within was opened. It was empty.


For much more detailed information about the subject of Taira no Masakado, please check out Eirikr’s excellent blog post at


江戸の怪談【電子書籍】[ にほんの歴史★楽会 ]
価格:616円 (2019/10/13時点)


If these articles have helped you in any way please feel free to click here to help support us by making a donation on PayPal

Buy me a coffee, or two, or three ;-D