During the Japanese invasion of Korea in the 16th century, the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi had one brutal but relentless command to his troops: to kill all and bring their heads back to Japan. The massive slaughter of civilians piled up to the tens of thousands, and it became so large that the troops had difficulty sending the decapitated heads back to Japan. So, what they did was to cut off the noses from the corpses and ship those instead.
According to Stephen R. Turnbull, a British historian who specializes in Japanese military history, particularly the samurai period, the head count rose up to over 200,000 with 185,738 Korean heads and 29,014 Chinese heads.
However, when it came to noses, it's unsure whether the count reflected a corpse or not, as soldiers devised a clever way to inflate the body count by simply cutting off living people's noses. Apparently, these Koreans lived the rest of their lives without noses. Sometimes, without ears as well.
The noses have been buried in two places, Kyoto and Okayama. The Kyoto site of the noses was on the grounds of Hokoji Temple, and atop sits a shrine to honor the victims, which according to the chief priest of the temple, showed Hideyoshi's "great mercy and compassion". Initially, the shrine was called hanazuka, or "mound of noses", but they changed it to mimizuka, or "mound of ears", because the first one sounded too cruel.
The Japanese public were generally unaware of the presence of these mounds or the history attached to them until a few decades ago, in the 1980s, when they decided to teach that part of Japanese history in schools.
(Image credit: Epachamo/Wikimedia Commons)