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Remains dug up from Osaka mass grave suggest epidemic in 1800s


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Today, we are all cremated in Japan. Scientists in the future will have difficulty to investigate diseases and other anthropological facts of us with the advanced sciences.

11 ( +14 / -3 )

That’s a big find with interesting timing

15 ( +15 / -0 )

What a positive way to start the day...

6 ( +7 / -1 )

The burial site is in what used to be a farming area outside of the urban community near Osaka Castle...

That Umeda redevelopment site is nowhere near Osaka Castle.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

The late 1800s is hardly the middle ages. Are there no records mentioning an epidemic?

19 ( +22 / -3 )

An epidemic of what? And, has the site been sterilized or did they just open up a whole new epidemic?

7 ( +14 / -7 )

What a comforting photo to be greeted wth when I open JT’s home page in the morning, especially in 2020.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

I'm embarrassingly uneducated in Japanese pre-WWII history so forgive me if I sound ignorant here...

In most contexts I can't imagine why there wouldn't be records from the late 19th century of an epidemic. If the outbreak was large enough to require mass graves that certainly should have been recorded.

From an article I read:

*At the same time, scientific researchers in Europe touted the sanitary benefits of cremation, including its use in helping control the spread of disease. And so, opponents of Japan’s ban framed Europe’s growing interest in cremation as approval from the West, rejecting the claim that it created more pollution than burial and, effectively, in the minds of the government, separating cremation from Buddhism. Rather than a spiritual practice, people came to view it as a sanitary one.

In May 1875, less than two years after it passed, the ban was reversed. Two decades later, in 1897, the Japanese government ruled that anyone who died of a communicable disease had to be cremated. In an ironic twist, government officials began actively promoting the cleansing power of fire and its ability to destroy diseases.*

So the gravesite/epidemic certainly came and a strange time for Japanese burial practices, socially speaking. Will be interesting to keep following up on this burial site, it could offer a lot of contextual insight into Japanese society during the Meiji period/urbanization.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

difficulty to investigate diseases and other anthropological facts of us with the advanced sciences.

We have advanced DNA analysis now.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

"Some experts have cited the possibility of an epidemic of syphilis, which was rampant then in populated areas such as Osaka."

7 ( +8 / -1 )


3 ( +3 / -0 )

There were cholera outbreaks in the late 1800s that killed thousands in Japan. It can't be that simple I guess.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Other scientists' report say they investigated bones buried during the time of Edo period (1600-1867) and found half of them were syphilitic. I wonder why we are here today. As all the sicknesses are so, they might have acquired group immunity. They lived with syphilis when there was no cure medicine.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Your Australian article, Herve misses this from the article above. Quote: As in the earlier excavation, the remains of some of the people showed lesions on their limbs, suggesting they fell victim to an epidemic in the region, Hirata said.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

This news was on Yahoo Japan 2 weeks ago but better late than never!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"It was our first historical discovery of a burial site in Osaka," Hirata said. "The findings will provide details of burial tradition of ordinary people back then."

I'm surprised they don't have records on this stuff, seeing as it was the 19th century and not some prehistoric age.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

In Japan, the Middle Ages ended with the 1868 Meiji restoration.

I was about to say.

5 ( +5 / -0 )


I know this news is not new but pictures shown here are so precise and vivid. Japanese medias withheld showing cruel pictures to us as usual. I think they have records but Osaka was devastatingly destroyed by bombings during the W.W. II and locations became difficult to identify, I guess.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Sic transit gloria mundi... People who were once alive and known and had families and friends are now nameless, faceless, and forgotten, known only unto God. And we all end up like that.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

Ego Sum Lux Mundi

Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. One generation passes away, and another comes but the earth abides forever.

2 ( +4 / -2 )


Residential? Might bring a lot of work to Shinto priests.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Good way to spend a scorching summer day. Work in midday heat doing manual labor and then digging up mass urns and graves. How are none of these guys quitting on the spot?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"Your Australian article, Herve misses this from the article above...."

Not my article, BTW. The lesions could have been from other diseases, or co-morbidities. Yet, Japanese society survived with essentially no modern medicine.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

No Japanese site that I have visited has suggested syphilis. I wonder where they got that idea?

But as Serendipitous1 has said above, Japan was constantly hit by horrific outbreaks of 'Sekiri' cholera until they sorted out their sewerage systems.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Sad story. My condolences to all who lost or suffered.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Even if records were found cause of death will most probably be still unclear as I've heard they were doing very little testing even after death

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am very surprised that there is no records of the burial site, or what caused the mass burial, has there been any DNA testing? quite a few scientists had examined the remains of king Tutankhamun, they have worked out his age, height, his death and the circumstances leading up to his demise, and he died 3000 years ago. I would have thought that this would be a walk in the park find out what has happened to these people. I am sure that the remains will be removed and reburied, I just hope that they are given a blessing from the local priest/monk.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Medieval Japan began to fall away with the spread of empirical knowledge during the Tokugawa period, it was a very gradual process -- perhaps even continuing! -- to suggest Japan came to be “enlightened” due to the return of power to the imperial house in 1868 and suddenly emerged from a “medieval” period is not correct. It is interesting though, that there are as of yet no records as to what happened in Osaka at the time of this mass grave. I look forward to what the scientists uncover.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The burial site is in what used to be a farming area outside of the urban community near Osaka Castle...

That Umeda redevelopment site is nowhere near Osaka Castle.

I think the sentence is written a little ambiguously. If we read it as "the burial site was outside the urban community" and " the urban community was near (around) Osaka Castle", then it's more or less correct.

I understand the first kanji for Umeda used to be "bury" (埋) and not "plum". It was changed when the area was developed at the end of the 19th century.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Medieval Japan began to fall away with the spread of empirical knowledge during the Tokugawa period

And it is much the same in Europe - there is no agreement among historians about a particular date that the middle ages ended and the resume modern began and this is because it was a gradual process.

However, in Japan a number of things happened very quickly - the end of serfdom, abolition of the samurai class and the opening of the world to foreigners and industrialization.

Japan in 1820 was probably little different to his it had been in 1420.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

Japan in 1820 was probably little different to his it had been in 1420.

Enjoy your studies! Completely different entities.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

There's a reason the name is "Umeda", and the original Kanji was not "plum field" but "burial field", and it's not just because Umeda is reclaimed land. Lots of stuff buried under there, including this mass grave. In any case, they'll take a few more photos, toss the bones, then keep building.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

As others have said, look forward to what the CSI people uncover. There may have been records, but so much got lost in wars, natural disasters etc, that we now rely on the boffins!

I have to agree with Listen, Japan in 1420 was NOT Japan in 1820. There are some great resources online!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I wonder how the burial date was determined and how much error is in that estimate? Could the bodies be from an earlier epidemic that is recorded? Just thinking out loud here .......

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All the speculations.

Whether late Edo or early Meiji, both periods were times where the filling government tightly controlled what the people heard, said, etc...

Any epidemic could have and would have been kept quiet especially by either the waning power of the Shogunate or the fledgling Meiji government.

As for what it could have been, well a clear clue is provided piglets and horse.

Japanese encephalitis was once a major killer any outbreak that close to Osaka or Tokyo would have set off a major panic.

The disease rarely kills adult pigs but can kill young ones and oddly enough does affect horses.

Why burial? Well again total speculation on my part but I suspect that close to Osaka a large number of funeral pyres would have attracted a lot of attention.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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