For many people it is probably rather strange to use the word, “amazing”, to describe a cemetery, but we need to make an exception here. Zoshigaya cemetery is simply amazing. You might disagree with me, but I am going to use it to describe this place. It is filled with beauty, history and nature.
Zoshigaya is located very close to Ikebukuro, one of the busiest train stations in Tokyo. From Ikebukuro you can use bus, train, subway, streetcar or even walk. It`s just so easy to get to and very worthwhile seeing. Quite a large place, it occupies over 10 hectares of land in of the quieter neighbourhoods of Toshima ward. The cemetery is non-denominational and contains the graves of many famous people. From within the cemetery you can easily see the famous Sunshine 60 building near Ikebukuro station. Poking up over the trees the skyscraper looks very picturesque.
The actual cemetery was founded by the government of Tokyo in 1874 after burials and cremations were banned in the central areas of the city. As a result of that ban, several cemeteries charged with carrying cremations were created with Zoshigaya being one of them. At that time however, it was known as Zoshigaya Asahidecho Bochi (bocchi means cemetery), Zoshigaya Asahidecho being the name of the town where it was located. In 1876, the administration of the cemetery was taken over by Tokyo prefecture, then later by the Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association which operates it today. The named was changed to Zoshigaya Reien in 1935.
Walking through Zoshigaya Cemetery is a very pleasurable experience as it is so serene. Some people might have an image of cemeteries as places where there are neatly mown lawns nice neat paths between the rows of graves, but not this one. The graves might be neatly arranged in rows and there are a few roads for vehicles but there are no nicely mowed lawns. It is really quite natural. The grass can be quite high in some places with many flowers. Throughout the area there are numerous tall trees which provide plenty of shade. Some of parts are almost forest-like. The trees keep the outside noises down to a minimum. If you have been to either Shinjuku Gyoen or Meiji Shrine, you`ll know what it is like. While walking through the cemetery, it`s possible to see people visiting their family plots, keeping them clean and paying respects.
Zoshigaya has so many different types of graves. Some are simple plots with a sculpted rock placed above as in the case of Yumeji Takahisa, others have the more typical rather high gravestone found in cemeteries throughout Japan. But the majority are traditionally in shape with a short pathway up to the gravestone which might have the family crest, or might not, on it. Some of them even have their own private gardens or even hedges. Others are quite large. One of the largest monuments is to Ginko Ogino who was the first female doctor in Japan to be trained in the Western style of medicine. Her site is huge, and even though she passed away in 1913, many people still come to pay their respects. There are other quite large plots occupied by what could only be called mini-mausoleums, which are very impressive.
Some of the modern graves are rather inspirational. A couple of them have something witty written on them in English, while others might have an unusual gravestone. One great example is made of white marble with pink cherry blossom petals carved into it. Next to many of the graves there are ornamental lanterns, pagodas and even angels. Some also have a place into which business cards can be placed to let families know when someone came to visit the grave.
Being non-denominational, many foreign people who passed away in Japan can be found there. Among them is the famous author Lafcadio Hearn, whose gravestone carries his Japanese name, “Yakumo Koizumi”. His grave is under a very shady tree and can be found very close to Ginko Ogino. The famous German-Russian teacher of philosophy, Raphael von Koeber can be found very close to a group plot occupied by a group of Catholic female missionaries.
A few of the famous people interred here are:
Hachiro Sato – famous poet and writer of children`s songs
John Manjiro – real name, Manjiro Nakahama, one of the first Japanese to visit the United States and was later an important translator
Kyoka Izumi - writer of novels, short stories and kabuki plays
Kyosuke Kindaichi – a very famous linguist, especially interested in Ainu languages
Natsume Soseki – a writer from the Meji period
Ryunosuke Akutagawa – writer of short stories. Japan`s premier literary award, the Akutagawa prize, is named after him
Seiji Togo – painter and artist
For readers of Japanese literature, Natsume Soseki selected Zoshigaya Cemetery as the resting place for the friend of the teacher in his novel, “Kokoro” (1914)
If you wish to visit the cemetery to see a specific grave, the office there has maps. Unfortunately the map (available for a small donation) only has a few of the famous people listed and all the information is listed in Japanese. Before you go it would be better to do all your research online or have a Japanese speaker do it for you at the office.
Zoshigaya is a great cemetery for a stroll, quite different to Aoyama, Yanaka and Chidorigafuchi. There are a lot of interesting things to see and I`m sure you won`t be disappointed you went.
How to get to Zoshigaya Cemtery
A very pleasant way to get there is by the streetcar on the Toden Arakawa Line (it`s website can be seen here). Get off at Toden Zoshigaya and the cemetery will be right in front of you (about a 30 second walk). If you`re coming from Ikebukuro, walk off the platform and it`ll be on your left. If on a car that is heading towards Ikebukuro, walk over the tracks and you`ll see it.
As for subway lines, you can use either the Fukutoshin or Yurakucho lines. For the Fukutoshin line, get off at Zoshigaya station and it`s about a 5 minute walk. If you use the Yurakucho line get off at Higashi Ikebukuro station and it`s roughly a 10 minute walk.
We have a Google Map here to help you:
View Zoshigaya Cemetery and some of the surrounding stations in a larger map
The office is open from 8:30am to 5:15pm and can be contacted on 03-3971-6868. The cemetery itself is open 24 hours a day.
Completely free. If you require a map from the office, a 200 yen donation should suffice.