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 resting places 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. It’s incredible these two opposites are so close to each other.
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 very similar in appearance.
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. One or two have something witty written in English. One I particularly like is white marble with pink cherry blossom petals carved into it. Other graves have ornamental lanterns, pagodas, and even angels. They make for great photographs.
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 if needed!
Who is buried there?
Many people who lie in Zoshigaya Cemetery contributed to Japanese history. I can’t list them all, but they include:
1) 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.”
2) John Manjiro – real name, Manjiro Nakahama. He was one of the first Japanese to visit the United States and was later an important translator.
3) Soseki Natsume – if you are into Japanese literature, you need to visit this tomb. Zoshigaya Cemetery features in his book Kokoro (1914).
4) Ginko Ogino – Japan’s first western-trained female doctor. Her grave is one of my favorites as the statue is tremendous.
5) Hideki Tojo – the fortieth prime minister of Japan and 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) famous people.
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 is not the best way as it relies more on luck.
Other photo spots near Zoshigaya Cemetery
1. Gokokuji temple (a short walk away)
3. Saint Mary’s Cathedral (this church might be a little far, but it is within walking distance)
Where is Zoshigaya Cemetery?
It is near Ikebukuro. There are two ways to get to it.
- One is by Toden Arakawa Line’s streetcar (its website is here). The stop is outside the cemetery.
- You can also use either the Fukutoshin or Yurakucho lines. For the Fukutoshin line, get off at Zoshigaya station (Exit 1) and walk about five minutes. If you use the Yurakucho line, get off at Higashi Ikebukuro station. Then walk about ten minutes to the cemetery.
Here is a Google Map:
The grounds of Zoshigaya are always open. However, its administrative office is open from 8:30 am to 5:15 pm. If you wish to contact it, the telephone number is 03-3971-6868.
If you enjoy cemeteries, Zoshigaya 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.