“Having walked through times
when there was no such great war,
My thoughts go out to
the people who had lived through
those days of cruel hardship.”
This poem is on a stone tablet in the courtyard of Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery. In 2005, Emperor Akihito wrote it to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Pacific War’s end. It is a fitting tribute to the nearly 360,000 people who lie there under a huge symbolic coffin. If you want pictures of a place of national importance in Tokyo, this is it.
Large trees around the perimeter block the sights and muffle the sounds of the outside city. It provides privacy. This cemetery is one of the most hallowed places in Tokyo. Visitors pay their respects to people who lost their lives and their identities. No one knows who lies under that coffin. When their remains returned from distant battlefields, they were never identified. They lost everything.
In my experience, most visitors are of the older generation. Some, maybe veterans, come in small groups, while others come with family members. Everyone offers solemn prayers, lays flowers and moves on. Stays never seem long.
I’m the same. After I take my photos, lay a flower, and offer a prayer, I move on. Stays are short, but they have value. It’s always the thought that counts.
A brief history of Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery
The cemetery was completed in 1959. It houses the remains of unidentified soldiers and civilians killed overseas during WW2. Under a hexagonal roof, in the middle is a five-ton ceramic coffin.
The coffin is one of the biggest ceramic objects in the world. Stones and pebbles were gathered from Japan’s conflict zones to construct it. Inside is a gilt bronze urn – a gift from the Showa Emperor. The remains enshrined in it symbolize all those who died during the war. Under the coffin, in a large chamber, is an ossuary containing the dead’s actual remains.
Photography at the cemetery
Taking photos is no problem. The staff will not object. The only thing to remember is to be mindful of people offering prayers.
What to photograph?
- There are two stones in the courtyard with poems inscribed on them. Emperor Emeritus Akihito wrote one. His father, the Showa Emperor (Hirohito), wrote the other.
- The ceramic coffin under a hexagonal roof.
- There are two small memorials. One is for those who lost their lives while trying to return home. The other is for those who died as prisoners of the Soviet Union. They stand side by side.
Photo tips for this cemetery
- The roof which covers the ceramic coffin is vast. If you want to photograph it and everything under it from close up, you’ll need a very wide-angle lens and;
- You can’t get directly behind the coffin as that area has a barrier around it.
Where is Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery?
There are two subway stations nearby: Hanzomon and Kudashita. Hanzomon is probably best for people coming from the direction of Shibuya. Kudanshita is best for people coming from Shinjuku. Here is a Google map:
- From April 1 to September 30, the cemetery is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
- From October 1 to March 31, it is open from 9 am to 4 pm.
Photo spots near Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery
- Jinbocho book street
- Tokyo Daijingu (the shrine of love)
For me, Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery is a unique place. I still remember the first time I went there many years ago. At that time, being a cold winter’s day, it was deserted. Seeing that huge ceramic coffin was a thought-provoking experience. It made me wonder how each person came to be there, what kind of lives they had, and how it ended.
And one last thing. Remember when I said it was a tranquil place? That’s not always true. Over the road is Chidorigafuchi Green Way (often shortened to Chidorigafuchi). It is one of the most famous places for cherry blossoms in Tokyo. The trees hang out over the water, and when they bloom, the area becomes extremely crowded. At that time, quite a few people will detour into the cemetery.
Even though the cemetery is small and you won’t spend much time there, it is worth a photo or two and a prayer. I’d highly recommend visiting when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.