Graves discovered in the southern part of the Umedahaka burial grounds in Osaka’s Kita Ward. (alll photos courtesy Osaka City Cultural Properties Association)

Just what 2020 needed — an ancient burial ground with more than 1,500 bodies has been discovered at a redevelopment site in Osaka’s Kita Ward. The Osaka City Cultural Properties Association announced the discovery on August 13, 2020.

Northern view of entire Umedahaka burial grounds

Researchers believe that this is Umedahaka, or the Umeda Graves, one of seven historically significant graveyards in Osaka that dates back to the late Edo Period (1603–1867 CE). It’s located nearby JR Osaka Station, making it akin to finding a burial ground right by New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

Judging by the lack of any significant personal belongings, it is believed that those buried here were commoners, which would allow researchers the opportunity to learn and study the ways and customs of a people not typically recorded by history. Furthermore, the multiple bodies found in each hole would indicate that their deaths were likely the result of either a pandemic or natural disaster.

The burial grounds were found during phase 2 of the Umekita redevelopment, which calls for four skyscrapers to be built by 2024. The site will eventually be home to hotels, offices, commercial, and residential space but before it can move forward the remains will likely be gathered and relocated with appropriate rituals performed by a Buddhist monk.

The Northern part of the burial grounds
The remains of a stone structure discovered in the southern part of the burial grounds
A pile of funerary urns that were unearthed
A Buddhist mortuary tablet that was unearthed
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Johnny Waldman

Johnny Waldman was born in Brooklyn but moved to Japan a year later. He spent the first 18 years of his life growing up in Tokyo. He returned to the U.S. for college where he studied art and art history....