Sōfuku-ji is an old Chinese temple not far from Nagasaki’s Chinatown. It was established in 1629 by a Chinese monk name Chaonian and is actually one of the best examples of a Ming dynasty temple not only in Japan, but in China as well. Most of the structures were built in China, disassembled, then shipped to Nagasaki and reassembled there. It’s actually quite an interesting temple to visit, as it has some similarities to other Japanese temples, but is clearly Chinese in the colours and the details. I’ve passed by this temple on every visit to Nagasaki, and every time I have just passed by it, as it always seems that I go by there at the end of the day when I just can’t seem to handle a jaunt up a lot of stairs on a pretty steep hillside. Or maybe I was just lazy. Because today, despite the 35 degree heat and nearly 100% humidity, I felt energized going up those stairs and doing some exploring.
Of course, what I really wanted to see was the cemetery at Sōfuku-ji. I’m not sure when or how I first discovered it (maybe through some Google research, or Facebook, or who knows), but it looked like an interesting cemetery to visit. It’s to the left of the temple, and up the mountain. There are numerous steps and pathways going up, but it’s kind of like a maze – a lot of times you end up in a dead end, and you have to go back a bit and find another way up. As a result, I didn’t end up seeing as much of the cemetery as I would have liked (although I think I probably saw at least half of it). Partly it was because I wanted to get to another cemetery later that afternoon, but also because I was sweating out more water than I was taking in, with all the stair-climbing I was doing in this tropical heat (fact: my Fitbit tracker logged 56 staircases climbed here).
Anyway, what I liked about this cemetery was not only it’s mountain-side location with its beautiful towering trees, but the fact that it had numerous statues, which I don’t really see much of in most Japanese cemeteries (and almost never in new Japanese cemeteries). There were statues of people and animals (Chinese dogs, an elephant, dragons, etc), and interesting reliefs carved into gates and gravestones.
And the gates! It’s so rare to see gates in Japanese cemeteries, and this one had plenty of them. When I say gate, I mean an open doorway to a family grave site.
Of course, this being the same day that I visited Inasa cemetery, it meant that I still didn’t have any bug spray and that, the further I went up the mountain, the more appealing I became for the various biting insects that were there. That said, it was not nearly as bad as at Inasa. I would also say that I would only visit this cemetery on a dry day, as all of the fallen leaves and twigs, combined with the fact that most of the steps have a slight downward slope, would make it much more treacherous when wet and slippery.
Monuments: This cemetery features a lot of family plots, so there are multiple graves within each small section. There are various statues, lanterns, and regular square columns throughout the cemetery. Most of the monuments here appear to be quite old.
Grounds: The cemetery is on a mountain-side, so if you have mobility issues, this probably will be off-limits to you. As mentioned, there are a lot of little stairs and paths, but they often end in dead ends, so if you really want to explore the grounds, you’ll be doing a lot of backtracking. But the wooded, secluded area is a very relaxing place to be.
Visitors: None when I was there.
Photographer Notes: I wish I had brought some infrared film with me here, as the trees, moss and lichen would have rendered quite nicely here.
Cemetery: Sōfuku-ji (崇福寺) cemetery
Established: The temple was established in 1629, but I don’t know how early the first internments were, especially as there was the Chinese cemetery at Inasa at this time.
Internments: I couldn’t find any information about the number of internments here.
Location: 7-5 Kajiyamachi, Nagasaki 850-0831. Sofukuji Temple is about a 5-minute walk from Shokakujishita tram station. You could also walk there from Dejima.
Hours: 08:00-17:00 daily, the entrance fee to the temple and grounds is 300 yen.
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