Home » Yanaka Cemetery – the Shogun’s resting place

Yanaka Cemetery – the Shogun’s resting place

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?

Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu grave at Yanaka Cemetery
The grave of Japan’s last Shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa.

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 still visit his grave at that cemetery in Tokyo’s Taito ward.  It is an incredible piece of Japanese history. 

cherry blossom road yanaka cemetery
Cherry blossom road in the middle of the cemetery.

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 many bilingual signs to it. 

former Prime Minister Ichiro Hatayama and family graves
Former Prime Minister Hatoyama’s grave is in the middle.

What is to photograph at the cemetery?

  • Autumn leaves
  • Graves (with many those of many historical people)
  • Cherry blossoms (especially along the central road)
  • Tokyo Skytree
  • The grave of Japan’s last shogun.
Japanese graves at Yanaka Cemetery

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!
Yanaka cemetery graves cherry blossoms

Where is Yanaka Cemetery?

Yanaka Cemetery is so easy to find.  It is on the west side of the Yamanote Line’s Nippori station.  Leave via the West exit, and you`ll find the steps leading up to the cemetery nearby.  Here is a Google map:

Opening hours

The administration building is open from 8:30 am to 5:15 pm and can be contacted at 03-3821-4456.  The grounds of Yanaka cemetery are open 24 hours a day.

Car parking

None

Admission costs

None

Public restrooms

Yes

WIFI availability 

None

Photo spots similar to Yanaka Cemetery

  • Aoyama Cemetery (huge with a lot of famous graves)
  • Sengakuji (a temple, with a small cemetery that is the resting place of the 47 ronin)
  • Tama Cemetery (a huge historical cemetery that includes the grave of Admiral Yamamoto)

Photo spots within walking distance

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.  In autumn, the cemetery has magnificent ginkgo trees.  Both are great. I hope to have some pictures of those seasons here soon.

Tennoji temple Big Buddha

In some ways, Yanaka is comparable to Aoyama and Zoshigaya cemeteries.  A large part of it 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.

Yanaka cemetery graves of Tokugawa Yoshinobu and family members

If you are looking for something to do in Tokyo or search for its history, a stroll there might be what you need.  And please remember that it is very seasonal.  The scene can change so much, depending upon the time of year.  Yanaka Cemetery is another place I recommend in Tokyo for a visit.

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