Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery: A photo guide

Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery ceramic coffin under hexagonal
The ceramic coffin at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery.

“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 photos 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.

poem on stone tablet written by Showa Emperor
The stone tablet with the poem written by Showa Emperor.

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. 

This 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 remains.

Photography at the cemetery

Taking photos at Chidorigauchi National Cemetery no problem. The staff will not object. The only thing to remember is to be mindful of people offering prayers.

What can you photograph there?

  • 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 when 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 a barrier is around it.

Other photo spots near Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery

poem on stone tablet written by Emperor Emeritus with cherry blossoms behind
The stone tablet with the poem written by the Emperor Emeritus.

Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery details

See the cemetery’s location, opening hours, and other details on the official website.

Wrapping Up

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 thought-provoking. 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.

Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery memorial to those who died trying to get home or prisoners in Russia
The memorial to those who died trying to get home or as prisoners in Russia.

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