This is another one of the big cemeteries that are dotted around Tokyo. After a very short walk from the train station I was in land of stone and trees. And cats. Some of the most beautiful, friendly, and well-fed cemetery cats I have ever seen were hanging around the cemetery. That, more than anything, gave me a sense of cemetery familiarity (is there such a thing?) once I started exploring the grounds.
Of course, right when I arrived I noticed little drops of water collecting on my jacket. I looked up to the sky – “it’s just going to drizzle a little bit” I thought – well, we can all be wrong sometimes. After about 20 minutes it had moved beyond drizzle to rain, and I, having believed what my iPhone said about the weather (no rain till evening) did not have an umbrella with me. Up until that point I was hanging out under trees when the drizzle got to be a little too much, but this being the end of February, there were a whole lot of trees with foliage on them. When it really started to come down I noticed the police box (yes, there is a local policeman for the cemetery) and thought maybe I could go there. But luckily enough there was an old-fashioned phone booth across from the koban, so I went there instead. I became that person who goes inside a phone booth to use their smart phone. But what else could I do? No place to sit, and nothing else to do but to see what cats had paid me a visit on Neko Atsume (i’m so addicted!) Luckily, after about 15 minutes the rain turned back to a light drizzle and I could go on exploring.
This cemetery is famous as the burial grounds for 6 of the Tokugawa shoguns. I guess the biggest of these sites was for Tokugawa Yoshinobu, taking up a fair bit of cemetery real estate. However, the actual grave is fenced off to mere mortals like us, but it’s easy enough to peer through the fence to look at the big lanterns and other monuments. Another famous resident is the Japanese writer Ichiyo Higuchi, who appears on the 5000 yen note. I was not able to find her grave however.
I have to say, I really liked this cemetery. It was clear to me how stunning this place will be in about a month’s time when all the cherry blossoms are in bloom. The huge cherry trees (the biggest I’ve seen) were magnificent, even without a single leaf or bud on them. It also made it easier to see the big black crows cawing from the high branches or flying overhead. I liked the diversity of the terrain (it’s on a hill so there are gently sloping areas) and of the monuments, although I really couldn’t specify what made them so different.
Quality of Monuments: There’s an interesting mix of new and old here, from the over-the-top memorials to the shoguns, to the small understated monuments in the newer section. I was also interested in the very new columbariums that were dotted around the grounds – clearly in response to a need from a population that is rapidly aging and/or for those who simply cannot afford a large family tomb.
Cemetery Grounds: Over 25 acres of land for the cemetery, containing about 7000 tombs (with multiple remains as nearly all are family plots). Large, beautiful trees and well landscaped paths. Being here made me realize what is great about cemeteries in Tokyo – they provide a large, fairly green space in a very densely populated concrete, steel, and glass city. It’s also a place where you do not see the ubiquitous power and telephone lines that crisscross nearly every inch of Japan. It’s nice to look up and see nothing but trees and blue skies.
Visitors: A lot of people pass through this cemetery either going to or from the train station (I think). Some people were there tending to graves, and I saw a small number of tourists exploring it with guidebook in hand. That said, it was still fairly calm and quiet.
Photographer Notes: I enjoyed this place a lot, but like Zoshigaya Cemetery, found little to interest me photographically. At least, nothing to commit to film, although I did take a lot of photos with my phone.
Cemetery: 谷中霊園 Yanaka Reien, also known as Yanaka Bochi (Yanaka graveyard)
Location: Literally, a minute’s walk from the JR Nippori station (exit 5). It’s located in Tokyo’s Taito ward.
Hours: I believe it’s open 24 hours, although regular business hours for the main office.