Toshima-ku, Minami Ikebukuro 4-25-1
Tokyo, Japan 171-0022
Telephone: 03 3971 6868
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:
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.