Nagasaki is known for its openness and interactions with foreign merchants, traders, and missionaries, even when all of Japan was shut to the rest of the world. As such, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there is not one, but three cemeteries where foreign nationals were buried. Probably the most famous of the three is Sakamoto Cemetery, but the other two (Oura and Inasa) are certainly known and well sign-posted. Due to no other reason than it was within walking distance from my hotel, I decided to visit Inasa cemetery first.
Inasa Cemetery has the distinction of having the oldest European grave marker in all of Japan, that of Hendrik Duurkoop, who had been an official of the Dutch East India Company. In the summer of 1778 he sailed to Nagasaki to be the director of the trading post on Dejima Island, but he died on the ship before ever setting foot in Japan. He was buried at the cemetery for foreigners at Gojinji Temple in Inasa. His gravestone lies within the Dutch cemetery at Inasa cemetery, but the entire section was closed when I visited. However, you could see the graves through the iron fence. There are 41 people buried in that section, but it was difficult to tell which was Duurkoop’s grave, or that of Janus Rhijnhoud, who died in1870 and was the last person to be buried in the Dutch cemetery.
The other two foreign sections of this cemetery include the Chinese and Russian cemeteries. Both of these foreign nationals had a strong presence in Nagasaki at various points in its history. By 1690, when trading with the Chinese was at its peak, nearly one sixth of the population in Nagasaki was Chinese. Of course, the Chinese influence has remained strong in Nagasaki, as evidenced in the numerous temples, events, and local cuisine. At Inasa, the Chinese cemetery has 230 graves, the oldest being from 1627. From what I could tell, most of the older graves were quite small and simple.
The Russian influence came later, in 1853, when the Russians requested the opportunity to trade with Japan, only a month after Commodore Perry opened up Japan to the West. By 1855 Japan had opened their ports to Russia, and a few decades later a Russian village was thriving at the foot of Mt Inasa. A Russian consulate was also built in the area. However, the consulate, and most of what was left of the Russian village was destroyed by the bomb. The Russian cemetery at Inasa is easy to find, located about halfway up the slope, with numerous Russian Orthodox crosses and even a small chapel, which was established in1909 and consecrated by Bishop Nikolai. Some of the graves here have statues and reliefs, with some classic seafaring iconography, such as anchors and (real) inverted canons.
Surrounding the foreign sections is the regular Japanese cemetery, both very old and new, and when I was there there were a few people cleaning their family graves in preparation for O-Bon, which is usually lasts for three days up to the 15th of August, but there are regional variations across Japan. Otherwise, I pretty much had the cemetery to myself. The older sections are quite overgrown and even sticking to the paths my legs were attacked by bushes, brambles, and biting insects alike. For some reason the Russian section had a ton of cicadas, and they seemed to enjoy dive-bombing me on occasion. Many of the sections have gates, but other than the Dutch section, I was able to explore them all. The tall leafy trees and the hillside location made it an interesting place to visit.
Near the bottom of the hill, quite close to the temple, were a number of small statues, many with their heads replaced with a very simple clay head. I have no idea if these are temporary or not, but I had a morbid fascination with them. Overall I didn’t know what to expect from this cemetery, but I quite enjoyed exploring it, despite all the scratches and bug bites I received, which is partly my fault for not being better prepared.
Monuments: Most of the graves here are Japanese or Chinese, and are thus quite simple, with stone slates or square columns marking the grave site. The Dutch cemetery has full slabs, some crosses, and an obelisk. The Russian cemetery is full of crosses, with a few small statues and reliefs.
Grounds: The cemetery is behind Goshinji Temple, it starts at the bottom of the hill and goes up. There are lots of stairs and paved pathways which makes it easy to get around. Each section has a gate/fence – if you can’t get in through one side, you may be able to through from the other side. Most of the sections are well maintained, but the old northern section (Chinese?) is really overgrown. Bring bug spray and plenty of water if visiting in the high humid heat of summer.
Visitors: Only a few locals were there cleaning graves when I was there, otherwise it was pretty empty.
Photographer notes: wide angles and zooms would be useful here, as in many parts it’s impossible to back up, and in others it’s impossible to get in (due to gates or brambles), so a zoom would be useful if you wanted to get more details of certain headstones.
Cemetery: Inasa International Cemetery
Established: I believe the first (foreign?) burials here began in 1602 (Chinese burial).
Internments: The number of foreign burials here is about 500 from the Dutch, Russian, and Chinese sections.
Location: at the foot of Mt Inasa. There are buses that run to this area, or it’s about a 20- to 30-minute walk from Nagasaki station.
Hours: Like most Japanese cemeteries it appears to be open 24/7, but the gates to different sections may be locked outside of daylight hours