Cemetery of the Week #141: Yokohama Foreigners Cemetery

The cemetery holds a mixture of Western-style and Japanese monuments.

The cemetery holds a mixture of Western-style and Japanese monuments.

Yokohama Foreigners’ Cemetery
aka Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery
aka Yokohama Gaijin Bochi
096, Yamate-cho, Naka-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa 231-0862, Japan
Telephone: +81 045 622 1311
Founded: 1854
Size: 4.5 acres
Number of interments: around 5000
Open: Weekends and national holidays between March and December, from noon to 4 p.m.
Admission: A donation of at least 200 yen is requested to aid restoration of the cemetery.
Important to know: Bad weather may close the cemetery. It was closed due to rain the day I visited. Also note that the mosquitos are fierce. You may want to invest in repellent before you visit.

The main gate of the cemetery. The building visible on the right holds the museum

The main gate of the cemetery. The building visible on the right holds the museum

Prior to 1853, Japan was a country withdrawn from the world. That isolation ended when Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay with four black-sailed ships. They delivered a letter from President Millard Fillmore demanding that the shogun government open Japanese ports to American vessels.

Perry returned the following year with seven warships to check the response. Aboard the USS Mississippi, 24-year-old marine Robert Williams fell to his death. Perry requested land that overlooked the sea for a place to bury him. The shogunate offered the grounds of Zotokuin temple. Williams was buried there briefly, before his remains were moved to Gyokusenji Temple in Shimoda.

After the port of Yokohama was opened to the West in 1859, Japanese nationalists killed Roman Mophet and Ivan Sokoloff, two Russian marines. Their grave, near the cemetery’s Meyer M. Lury Memorial Gate at the bottom of the bluff, is the oldest remaining in the cemetery. It was once a magnificent monument, according to the cemetery’s website, but only the pedestal remains.

View of the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery from the main gate

View of the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery from the main gate

The Japanese buried near the Zotokuin temple were removed in 1861. The Chinese buried there were removed in 1871. After it was damaged in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the temple itself was relocated to the Heiraku neighborhood at the top of the bluff. Many of the cemetery records (although not all) were destroyed by the earthquake, so it’s not known exactly how many people are buried here. The surviving list, added to those buried since 1923, numbers about 5000 names. Almost 3000 tombstones remain standing.

One of the historically significant graves in the cemetery belongs to Charles Lennox Richardson, a British merchant who was killed by escorts of Lord Satsuma on the Tokaido Road on September 14, 1862. He and several Western friends, who had been sightseeing in Japan, refused to dismount and kneel when the Satsuma Daimyo rode by. The Japanese lord ordered his men to “chastise” the Westerners. Richardson was killed immediately, two of his friends were gravely wounded, and a third escaped to report what had happened.

Richardson’s death sparked the Anglo-Satsuma War. The British demanded that the Daimyo pay reparations and punish the murderers. When he refused, the British Royal Navy bombarded his castle and sank three of his steamships. Satsuma’s samurai climbed aboard the British ships and killed 13 sailors, but the Daimyo was impressed by Western weapons and agreed to pay the fine and execute his men.

In 1864, the cemetery was expanded from the area directly around the temple all the way to the top of the bluff. It was common in Japan for graves to be rented, but the shogunate waived that requirement and provided the land free of charge. After the Meiji government took power, its new Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote the American, British, Dutch, and Russian consulates in 1869, announcing that the gravesites would still be provided free of charge, but the consulates must bear the cost of the cemetery’s upkeep. These consulates formed the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery Foundation, which oversees the cemetery to this day.

In memory of Shigeno, the Japanese wife

In memory of Shigeno, the Japanese wife

Among the Westerners who changed the course of Japanese history buried in the cemetery are Edmund Morel, father of the Japanese railways; Scotsman John Diack, a railroad engineer; William Copeland, who brought beer to Japan with the Spring Valley Brewery; cartoonist Charles Wirgman; and John Reddie Black, an influential journalist. Eliza Scidmore, who brought the cherry trees to Washington DC, is also buried here.

Also in permanent residence are foreign employees of the Meiji government, missionaries, teachers, journalists, traders, ships’ crewmen, military men, bakers, photographers, botanists, and a man who revolutionized the sale of ice in Japan. The remaining gravestones record 40-some different nationalities, including as many as 120 Japanese wives of foreigners.

One of the photographs inside the cemetery's museum

One of the photographs inside the cemetery’s museum

The little museum near the upper gate has a panel exhibit of photographs explaining the history of the foreign community in Yokohama. The museum is open daily, even when the cemetery is closed because of the weather. I’ve read that there is a pamphlet with a self-guided tour of the cemetery available for 200 yen, but I wasn’t able to get one the day I visited.

The cemetery is easily reached from Tokyo’s Shibuya Station. Take the Tokyu Toyoko line to Motomachi Chukagai Station in Yokohama. Keep taking the escalators up through the station, exit through the station gate but don’t leave the building, and then keep taking escalators up through the mall until you reach the America-Yama Park. From there, bilingual signs will lead you up the hill to the Gaijin Bochi, the Foreigner’s Cemetery.

Useful links:

Official history of the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery

Visiting information

Financial Help Sought to Preserve the Cemetery

Essay about the Foreign Cemetery

Essay on the Anglo-Satsuma War, with a post-mortem photo of Charles Richardson

Information on the other foreign cemeteries of Yokohama

Other Japanese cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Aoyama Reien, Tokyo

Zoshigaya Reien, Tokyo

Hasedera Shrine, Kamakura


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Yokohama Foreigner’s Cemetery

Yokohama Foreigner's Cemetery

I’m just back from Japan today and the jet lag is hitting harder than I’d like. I’ll put this week’s Cemetery of the Week up tomorrow. Sorry for the delay!

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Upcoming Cemeteries of the Week

Yokohama001I’m closing in on 150 Cemeteries of the Week.  I still have a bunch of tourist destinations in mind, but I thought perhaps I’d open the subject up for discussion.  What would you like to see?

I’m including a poll, just to get a sense of whether these graveyards are as fascinating to you as they are to me.

If there’s something I absolutely must write about — but I’ve left it off my list — please feel free to write it in or leave a comment below.

Keep in mind that I am limited to those cemeteries that I can research, either through books or over the internet.  If I can’t find much information, I can’t write an informative post.  Also, I need to be able to find illustrations, either through photos I can borrow (with full credit, of course) or with vintage postcards or other ephemera.

The whole list of Cemeteries of the Week to date is here.


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Upcoming tour of Union Cemetery

The Grand Army of the Republic plot at Union Cemetery

The Grand Army of the Republic plot at Union Cemetery

In 1850, sailors discovered that Redwood Creek emptied into the San Francisco Bay in a natural deep-water channel. Within a year, men began to log the redwood trees of the Santa Cruz Mountains. A village originally called Redwood Landing took root beside the creek, where the trees could be milled for boards to build the Gold Rush towns springing up everywhere.

Early in 1859, a cemetery association purchased land along Woodside Road. They oversaw the cemetery’s design and sold burial plots, then deeded the cemetery to the Governor of California — and his successors — as trustees. This led to California’s first cemetery legislation, as the government didn’t wish to be made responsible for every graveyard in the state.

The Union Cemetery’s name “reflects the controversy that erupted in the Civil War,” according to the historical plaque placed in the cemetery. “Founders of the cemetery strongly opposed the secessionist sentiment that threatened the nation’s unity.” The GAR plot in the Union Cemetery was the only burial space to be purchased by the Grand Army of the Republic in California.

Union Cemetery obeliskAmong those buried in the cemetery are:

  • Approximately 40 veterans of the Civil War, along with a pair of wives and “a drinking buddy.”
  • Charles Benjamin, survivor of more than 30 major Civil War battles.
  • Members of the Masons, the Odd Fellows, the Improved Order of Red Men, and the United Ancient Order of Druids
  • …..And a host of local characters.

Docents from the Historic Union Cemetery Association will be joining us as guides for this special tour, tailoring their stories to the morbid sensibilities of Obscura Society members. This walk was organized specially for the Society by our resident Bay Area tombstone historian, Loren Rhoads, author of Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel.

A portion of ticket proceeds from this walk will be donated to the Historic Union Cemetery Association to help them continue their work with this historic cemetery.

Death on a headstone in Union Cemetery

Death on a headstone in Union Cemetery


  • Date: Saturday, June 28, 10-11 a.m.
  • Meet at the cemetery gate at 316 Woodside Road, Redwood City.
  • Tour starts promptly at 10 a.m. Please allow time for parking.
  • Wear comfortable shoes for standing. This cemetery is flat and easy to get around.
  • Bring water and dress in layers suitable for the potentially warm weather.

Space is limited. Advance tickets suggested. Walk-up tickets may not be available.

Here’s the link for tickets: http://www.atlasobscura.com/events/obscura-society-sf-expedition-to-union-cemetery-in-redwood-city

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Cemetery of the Week #140: Christ Church churchyard

Souvenir postcard with a photo by Fred Miller, circa 1987

Souvenir postcard with a photo by Fred Miller, circa 1987

Christ Church
aka Christ Episcopal Church
20 North American Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106
Telephone: (215) 922-1695
Founded: 1695
Size: Only a small patch of churchyard remains. There may be bodies under the green lawn next door, but they no longer have monuments.
Number of interments: 500?
Open: Monday through Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM and Sunday afternoons from 1 PM to 5 PM.
Admission: Visiting the Church is free, but a donation of $3 for adults and $2 for students will help to maintain the Church.

Anglicans, who looked to the King of England as their spiritual leader, organized Christ Church congregation in 1695. Their worship derived from Henry VIII’s split with Pope Leo X over his ability to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn in 1533. At its beginning, the Anglican liturgy varied little from its Catholic forebear, other than denying the authority of the pope and performing the mass in English. Both were radical ideas in their time.

Construction of this beautiful Georgian church began on this site in 1727. The current building was completed in 1754. The exterior of sober brick was crowned with a bright white steeple. When I visited, the interior was bright and people-scaled, cozy enough to absorb a tour group of 50 high school kids without swallowing them up. There was a steady stream of tour groups through the gift shop.

On July 4, 1776, the Vestrymen of Christ Church were holding a meeting when they heard that the Declaration of Independence had been signed in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, three blocks away. They quickly decided that all the passages in their prayer book that prayed for the King of England were “inconsistent” with the new Declaration — and edited them out. In 1789, the Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S. was organized here.

Christ Church became “the fashionable house of worship in Philadelphia,” according to Freedom of Worship: Meeting Houses, Churches, and Synagogues of Early Philadelphia. The Vestrymen set aside a pew for the use of George Washington, who had been elected president of the fledgling nation (whose capital was Philadelphia until just before the War of 1812). Benjamin Franklin was a pew-holder in the Church, meaning (I think) that he tithed enough money to maintain use of it. Betsy Ross became a member of the congregation after the Quakers rejected her for marrying her husband.

Detail of the postcard above, showing the churchyard

Detail of the postcard above, showing the churchyard

Buried in the churchyard outside was Robert Morris, one of the richest men in America at the time of the Revolution who became known as the Financier of the Revolution. He signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of the Confederation, and the United States Constitution, and served for one term as a Senator.

James Wilson also lies in the yard around Christ Church. He signed the Declaration of Independence and is one of the authors of the Constitution. He argued that citizens should be able to elect their government directly, rather than going through the Electoral College. Washington appointed him to the first Supreme Court. He died in North Carolina and was buried at the Hayes Plantation near Edenton. In 1906, his remains were exhumed and moved to the Christ Churchyard.

Other famous autographers at Christ Church include Jacob Broom, signer of the United States Constitution from Delaware; Pierce Butler, signer of the Constitution from South Carolina; and Judge George Ross, signer of the Declaration of Independence. Andrew Hamilton, an attorney in Colonial America, is remembered for his legal victory on behalf of printer John Peter Zenger. Hamilton’s defense concluded with the assertion that the press has the duty of “both of exposing and opposing tyrannical power by speaking and writing truth.”

Several Revolutionary War commanders are buried at Christ Church, including Major General Charles Lee and Continental Army Officer Samuel John Atlee, who later served as a delegate to the Continental Congress.

General John Forbes (1710–1759), British commander during the French and Indian War, has a memorial inside the church, as does John Penn, the last colonial governor of Pennsylvania.

The churchyard served as the congregation’s burying ground until 1719, when it was nearly full and Christ Church Burial Ground was opened two blocks away at 4th and Arch Streets.

Useful links:

Visiting Christ Church

Notables buried in the churchyard

Architectural information about Christ Church

Christ Church’s mystery in history

Other Revolutionary War heroes on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #18: King’s Chapel Burying Ground in Boston, Massachusetts

Cemetery of the Week #33: Old Dutch Burying Ground, Tarrytown, New York

Cemetery of the Week #41:  Trinity Churchyard, New York City, New York

Cemetery of the Week #61: Granary Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts

Cemetery of the Week #73: St. Paul’s Chapel churchyard, New York City, New York

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