Tama Cemetery is a great place. Like others in the city, it contains a lot of history. And photography there can be rewarding. I have to admit that I don’t know this cemetery as well as others in Tokyo. But, my first visit was great. I discovered that it is the resting place of many movers and giants of Japanese and world history.
Tama Cemetery is about a forty-minute train ride from Shinjuku. It occupies 128 hectares. That is a huge area, so I doubt you could see it all in one day. When it opened in 1923, its name was Tama Graveyard. In 1935 it gained its current name. During World War Two, the Japanese airforce hid aircraft from Chofu airport there.
The architecture and history are impressive. In that respect, it is the same as Aoyama, Zoshigaya, and Yanaka cemeteries. There are huge kanji-covered monoliths, enormous stone lanterns, and mound-shaped crypts. Some graves have Shinto and Buddhist icons, while others have Christian crosses. A columbarium is also on the grounds. There is one thing different here. The foreign area has many graves with people who seem to have had connections to the Middle East.
As with other Tokyo cemeteries, you’ll see some people had good senses of humor. And you’ll see many wanted to express their appreciation to their loved ones after death. They decorated their graves appropriately.
This cemetery is in a suburban area, so no large buildings are nearby. No skyscrapers are there. Trees cover the grounds, which makes it very quiet and peaceful. Spring is said to be an excellent time for a visit.
Who is buried in Tama Cemetery?
It is like a Who’s Who of Japanese historical figures. Here is an abbreviated list:
- Araki, Sadao (1877 -1966) – a senior commander in the Imperial Japanese Army. He was also a right-wing political theorist in the late Japanese Empire.
- Arita, Hachihiro (1884 -1965) – government minister. He supposedly created the concept of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
- Azuma, Ryotaro (1893 -1983) – doctor, bureaucrat, and Governor of Tokyo from 1959 to 1967.
- Edogawa, Ranpo (1894 -1965) – author and critic. He played a significant role in the development of Japanese mystery fiction.
- Hayashi, Senjuro (1876 -1943) – Imperial Japanese Army commander. He was also the 33rd prime minister of Japan.
- Kaitani, Yaoko (1921-1991) – ballerina.
- Kitagawa, Fuyuhiko (1900 -1990) – poet and film critic.
- Kurita, Takeo (1889 -1977) – senior Imperial Japanese Navy commander during World War II.
- Mishima, Yukio (1925 -1970) – literary figure.
- Ōoka, Shōhei (1909 -1988) – literary figure and translator of French literature.
- Sorge, Richard (1895 -1944) – German communist who spied for Russia and was executed during WW2.
- Starffin, Victor (1916 -1957) – first professional baseball pitcher in Japan to win three hundred games.
- Takahashi, Korekiyo (1854-1936) – politician and the 20th prime minister of Japan. His house is at the Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum.
- Tatekawa, Yoshitsugu (1880 -1945) – senior commander in the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II. He was also an ambassador to the Soviet Union.
- Togo, Heihachirō (1848 -1934) – one of Japan’s greatest naval heroes. Captain of IJN Mikasa.
- Yamahata, Yōsuke (1917 -1966) – photographer of the Nagasaki bombing.
- Yamamoto, Isoroku (1884-1943) – Admiral and commander-in-chief of the navy in World War II.
- Yosano, Akiko (1878 – 1942) – author, poet, pioneering feminist (in Japan), pacifist, social reformer.
Look at the names on that list. Many of those people had a massive impact on Japanese history. Togo, Yamamoto, and Sorge influenced the course of world events. There are many more. Tama Cemetery is the resting place of giants.
Problems photographing at Tama Cemetery
If you want to photograph specific graves, some will be difficult to find, as the cemetery is enormous. Make sure you drop by the administration building and pick up a map. Both Japanese and English are available. Many famous people are on it. If you know their name, the block, and grave numbers, you can find them. You’ll need some perseverance.
Some graves will be very difficult to find. Take the case of Ranpo Edogawa. His real name was Taro Hirai, and his tomb bears that name. If you don’t know that, there is no chance of finding him. Before you go, do your research to avoid this type of problem. Wikipedia can be a good source of information.
For fans of Yukio Mishima, you have bad news. You’ll be on your own finding this one. The family wants it protected for various reasons, and the staff respects their wishes. They won’t tell you where it is, and the grave isn’t on the map.
I need to mention one point about the English maps. They are not bilingual. But, almost everything in the cemetery is in Japanese. Relying only on these might not get you to your destination even if you know the grave number.
The cemetery is very flat and spacious, with many types of tombstones, so any lens can work. Long exposures can also work well. The only downside is that you can’t get into it earlier than 8 am. That rules out sunrise pictures. But, sunset is possible, especially in the cooler months.
Last, if you take a big, heavy bag of lenses with you, I recommend using Tama station. It is much closer to the cemetery than Tama-Reien (about a twenty-minute walk).
When to go?
Many people say spring is best when the cherry blossoms bloom. I haven’t been in spring, but I suspect they are correct. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get there in 2023 to see if it’s true!
Where is Tama Cemetery?
There are two train stations nearby. One is Tama Station on the Seibu-Tamagawa line, about a 5-minute walk. The other is Tama-Reien on the Keio line, about a 15-minute walk. Here is a Google map:
From March to September, Tama Cemetery is open from 8 am to 6:30 pm. For the rest of the year (i.e., October to February), it is open from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm.
Other photo spots near Tama Cemetery
There are many famous people and their graves to see at Tama Cemetery. Many of them were the makers and shakers of Japanese history. Luckily, most of them are easy to find.
Remember it is a big place, so it is unlikely you’ll be able to see every grave of interest there. To avoid disappointment, plan your trip before you go. The more prepared you are, the more you’ll be able to see.
So, if you want an interesting place in Tokyo to photograph or a place to walk, put Tama Cemetery on your list. It might be far out in the suburbs for some, but it is worth going. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below.