The Tokugawa Shogunate ruled Japan for close to 300 years. It started with Ieyasu Tokugawa in 1600. He was followed by his son Hidetada, who was in turn followed by his son Iemitsu. Then there were twelve more. They ruled until 1868. For lovers of Japanese history we have a few questions for you … Who was the last shogun? When did he die? And where was he buried?
If you said it was Yoshinobu Tokugawa, he died in 1913 and that he was buried in Yanaka cemetery, then you`d be right! The cemetery still exists today and you can visit it in Taito ward, next to Nippori station. And the best part is that you can also still see Yoshinobu`s grave. It is a great gravesite, very beautiful and dignified. But unfortunately you can only view it from behind a gate. The plot is quite large actually, with quite a few accompanying graves – family members, including many of his children (mortality rates in those days were quite high unfortunately) and companions. For anyone with a love of Japanese history it is a very remarkable place, the final link between the medieval period and the beginnings of the modern country.
Yanaka cemetery isn’t only about Japan’s last shogun though. There are a great number of other important historical figures in Yanaka cemetery. You can find actors and actresses, sumo wrestlers, prime ministers, mayors of Tokyo, poets, writers, painters, saints (yes, there is a saint there), educators and politicians. You can get a map from the administration building that has most of the important people marked on it, but you will need knowledge of Japanese to read it, or at least have someone with you who can. Yoshinobu`s grave though is easily found, as the way to it is marked in both Japanese and English.
The cemetery is great to visit in either spring or autumn. Along “Sakura-dori” (or Cherry blossom road), there are many cherry blossom trees which make for an amazing sight during the hanami (or cherry blossom viewing) season. The road is famous for it. And there are also some magnificent ginkgo trees in there as well, which make autumn something very special as well. Walking through the cemetery in either season, can be very memorable.
Just walking through the cemetery is a pleasant experience. As with Aoyama and Zoshigaya, you’ll find parts of it in a very natural state and you will also find some neglected graves. And while walking, have a look up and you’ll see Tokyo Skytree It makes for some great pictures especially if you can find some of the more impressive tombstones to photograph is behind.
If you are looking for something to do in Tokyo or enjoy a bit of its history, then a stroll through Yanaka cemetery might be just what you need, especially in spring or autumn! You can see its website here.
How to get to Yanaka Cemetery
Yanaka cemetery is very easy to get to. It is on the west side of Nippori station, which is on the Yamanote line. Leave via the West exit and you`ll find the steps leading up to the cemetery just a few meters away. We have a Google map here in case you have some trouble:
The office is open from 8:30am to 5:15pm and can be contacted on 03-3821-4456. The cemetery itself is open 24 hours a day.
Photographs for this article were taken with a Pentax K3 camera. Lenses used were an SMC Pentax-DA 50mm F/1.8, and an HD Pentax-DA 21mm F3.2 Limited.
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