Yanaka Cemetery: the last Shogun’s resting place

Yanaka Cemetery Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu grave
Yoshinobu Tokugawa's grave.

Ieyasu Tokugawa seized power in Japan in 1600 and became Shogun in 1603. After he retired, the title passed to his son Hidetada. There were twelve more until 1868, when the dynasty ended. So, here are some questions. Who was the last one? When did he die? Where was he buried?

Did you say Yoshinobu Tokugawa? And that he died in 1913 and lay in Yanaka cemetery? Yes? Then you gave three correct answers! Today, you can visit his grave at that cemetery in Tokyo’s Taito ward. It is an incredible piece of Japanese history.

I was expecting he would have a more extensive grave. What I got was disappointing. Yoshinobu only got something that looked like an upturned pot made of cobblestones. It might be one meter wide at most. You could call it a mini version of the Emperors’ tombs at Musashi Imperial Graveyard. But, the plot is quite large. Near him is his wife, Mikako. There are also quite a few children (mortality rates were high in those days) and companions. Of course, you can only view it from behind a gate. In retrospect, it is a lovely resting place.

But Yanaka isn’t only about Yoshinobu. There are actors, actresses, sumo wrestlers, poets, writers, painters, educators, and politicians. Even a saint (a Russian one!), a Tokyo mayor, and a politician lay there. You can find their graves on a map available at the administration building. The problem is that while the names are in English and numbered, the gravestones are in Japanese. That might be problematic for many people. But Yoshinobu`s is easy to find. There are signs to it in Japanese and English.

former Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama family graves
The grave of former Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama.

What can you photograph at the cemetery?

  • Autumn leaves
  • Cherry blossoms
  • Historical graves
  • Tokyo Skytree
  • The grave of Japan’s last shogun.

Special notes

  • You can get a map with grave locations at the cemetery administration office.
  • Throughout the cemetery are some bilingual plaques. They will explain the use of bamboo in grave fences. You will have to spot them, though!

Photo spots near Yanaka Cemetery

Tokyo Photo spots similar to Yanaka Cemetery

  • Aoyama Cemetery (huge with many famous graves)
  • Sengakuji (a temple with a small cemetery that is the resting place of the 47 ronin)
  • Tama Cemetery (the  resting place of Admiral Yamamoto)
  • Zoshigaya (the resting place of Soseki Natsume)

Yanaka Cemetery details

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

Wrapping up

I guess the big question is when to visit Yanaka. Without fail, I would choose spring or autumn. There is a road through it, “Sakura-Dori” (or Cherry Blossom Road), which is fantastic when in bloom. The cemetery also has magnificent ginkgo trees. Both are great. I hope to have some pictures of those seasons here soon.

In some ways, Yanaka is comparable to Aoyama and Zoshigaya. A large part is in a very natural state, with lots of trees and long grass in some places. The graves are in a kind of rough order. Its paths take indiscriminate turns, and some abruptly end. This cemetery can be delightful to walk through. While walking, keep your eyes open. You might find something surprising. Tokyo Skytree will greet you at some point as it pops out from behind the trees. And nearby is the temple of Tennoji, with its big buddha. The area is excellent for pictures.

If you are looking for something to do in Tokyo or search for its history, a stroll there might be for you. And please remember that it is seasonal. The scene changes according to the time of year. Yanaka Cemetery is another place I recommend.

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