Zoshigaya Cemetery – the best photography guide

Soseki Natsume grave
The grave of Soseki Natsume.

Zoshigaya Cemetery in Tokyo is great for a walk or photography. Some might think it a rather morbid place, but not me. With its forest-like atmosphere and fascinating tombstone architecture, it is alive. If you have a camera, you can get great photos there. It is another place to visit the graves of those who helped created modern Japan.

The grounds are spacious and peaceful. Tall trees cover most of its ten acres. Through gaps in the trunks, you can see the skyscrapers of nearby Ikebukuro. Incredibly, these two opposites are so close to each other.

cherry blossom engraved tombstone
Would you like some cherry blossoms on your resting place?

If you look at it on a map, you might think that everything is in neat rows. But from ground level, from my eye at least, it looks cluttered. Yes, the graves are in rows, but the size and shape of each can vary. It can feel like walking through a jigsaw puzzle, exploring all the nooks and crannies.

It’s like someone found a forest and thought it was a good place for some graves. But, they didn’t worry about the design or future expansion needs. Possibly that was how they did things a long time ago. Aoyama and Yanaka cemeteries are similar.

Clara Maria Seymour Zoshigaya Cemetery grave
Clara Maria Seymour's grave.

These cemeteries opened in the 1870s. That was a time when there was no real city plan. So maybe what we see now is just a reflection of those times? Even Tama Cemetery, which opened later, is the same. More “modern” Japanese cemeteries look very different. They seem to have everything lined up and extremely neat. I’m not saying one is better than the other, but it is something that interests me.

And the graves? I love them! Some consist of a simple, sculpted rock. Others have tall rectangular granite gravestones. A few are dome-shaped. At Zoshigaya, it seems like the sky is the limit for grave design! There is so much variation.  You could spend hours browsing or photographing them.

Some people have tried to make theirs unique. For example, I’ve seen the Japanese character for love on one. A few have something witty written in English. There is even a white marble tombstone with pink cherry blossom petals carved into it. Other graves have ornamental lanterns, pagodas, and even angels. They are great for photos.

A piece of trivia for you! Some graves at Japanese cemeteries, such as Zoshigaya, have a little postbox. Visitors can place their business cards in them to let the deceased’s family know who came. I don’t know how often they get used, but they are there!

Hideki Tojo grave
Hideki Tojo's grave.

Who is buried at Zoshigaya? 

Many people who lie in Zoshigaya Cemetery contributed to Japanese history. I can’t list them all, but they include:

  • Lafcadio Hearn – an English writer. His collection of Japanese legends and ghost stories is world-famous. He became a naturalized citizen of Japan, and his wife Setsu lies next to him. His gravestone carries his Japanese name, “Yakumo Koizumi.”
  • John Manjiro – real name, Manjiro Nakahama. He was one of the first Japanese to visit the United States and was later an important translator.
  • Soseki Natsume – if you are into Japanese literature, you need to visit this tomb. Zoshigaya Cemetery features in his book Kokoro (1914).
  • Ginko Ogino – Japan’s first western-trained female doctor. Her grave is one of my favorites, as the statue is tremendous.
  • Hideki Tojo – the fortieth prime minister of Japan and an army general. His grave is still visited, and he often receives fresh flowers.

How to find all their graves? There are two ways. One is to go to the administration building and pick up a map. There are two, one in English and the other in Japanese.  On them, you’ll find fifty (50) people.  Some are ultra-famous and some are not.

The other way is to just walk around the cemetery and look for nameplates. Of course, not every grave has one, but the more famous ones do. They are green and fixed to a stake. On them, in English, is the name of the person and their occupation. Unfortunately, this relies more on luck.

Society of the Sacred Heart Tokyo grave
The Society of the Sacred Heart have a plot in the cemetery.

Other photo spots near Zoshigaya Cemetery

Zoshigaya Cemetery details

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

Wrapping up

If you enjoy Japanese cemeteries, Zoshigaya Cemetery is a great place. You could spend a lot of time there and get some interesting photographs. Of course, you can see the resting places of those who had roles in Japanese history.

Ogino Ginko grave
The grave of Ogino Ginko, Japan's first licensed female physician practicing Western medicine.

For more cemetery articles, look at:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *