Cemetery of the Week #7: Zoshigaya Reien

Family grave in Zoshigaya

Zoshigaya Reien
Toshima-ku, Minami Ikebukuro 4-25-1
Tokyo, Japan 171-0022
Telephone: 03 3971 6868
Established: 1874
Size: 25 acres
Number of interments: Difficult to say, since Japanese are cremated and their urns are buried at family graves.
Open: Dawn to dusk

Zoshi is an old Japanese word that used to mean odd jobs. The land now occupied by the Zoshigaya Cemetery was once an estate where the shogun kept his kennels and where his falconers lived. In 1874, the city of Tokyo claimed the land for a graveyard, one of four unaffiliated with a temple owned by the municipality. Public graveyards are a Meiji-era (concurrent with our Victorian Age) import from the West.

Zoshigaya Reien contains the graves of several famous Japanese: Natsume Soseki (one of Japan’s best-loved novelists), novelist and playwright Kyoka Izumi, poet and painter Yumeji Takehisa, and Nakahama “John” Manjiro (the first Japanese to visit the United States). Visitors can request a map from the cemetery’s caretaker that will point out these graves. They are marked only with the kanji of the family names, which will may difficult for most Western visitors to decipher.

Not marked on the map is Hideki Tojo, the Prime Minister of Japan who was hanged for war crimes after World War II. He is credited with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Also buried in Zoshigaya is Koizumi Yakumo, better known to Western readers as Lafcadio Hearn. In the last half of the 19th century, Harper’s Magazine sent Hearn to Japan. Although he soon parted ways with his editors, he loved the country and wrote book after book describing it to Western readers for the first time.

While his tales drift in and out of fashion in the West, he is still revered in Japan. His most famous work is Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, a collection of Japanese ghost tales comparable to the work of the Brothers Grimm. Those stories inspired Akira Kurosawa’s 1964 movie of the same name, which won a Special Jury Prize at Cannes and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film.

Despite living in Japan for fourteen years, Hearn never became fluent in Japanese. In 1891, he married a samurai’s daughter, who told him the stories that sparked his imagination. In order to legally marry her, Hearn had to be adopted by her father. Later, he became a Japanese citizen and took his Japanese family’s name.

Most of the graves in Zoshigaya Reien are traditionally shaped, with a couple of low steps topped by an upright stone that gives the family name and often features the round family crest called komon. Many gravesites in Zoshigaya Cemetery have private gardens, hedged by small bushes or surrounded by low curbs. It’s a very peaceful place, not far from the bustle of Ikebukuro Station and a Seibu department that was once the largest self-contained store in the world.

More information about Zoshigaya Reien can be found here:
Findagrave

Beautiful photos

Visitor information

Wonderful blog post of a salaryman with a family grave in Zoshigaya

Cemetery of the Week #52: Aoyama Reien, also in Tokyo

Thanks to all my Japanese friends who encouraged me to visit this beautiful place. My thoughts are with you this week.

About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
This entry was posted in Cemetery of the Week, Famous person's grave and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Cemetery of the Week #7: Zoshigaya Reien

  1. Pingback: Cemetery of the Week #52: Aoyama Reien | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

What would you like to add?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s