I know I just used this photo the other night on the Yokohama Cemetery of the Week, but I wanted to talk a little more about it.
One of the goals of my trip to Japan was to visit the Foreigners’ Cemetery in Yokohama. Because I wasn’t sure what the status of the wifi would be in our air b’n’b apartment, I did my research beforehand. I discovered that the cemetery was only open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons between noon and 4. Since we would only be in Japan across one weekend, that was when we’d have to make the trip.
My husband Mason is a firm believer in doing the one thing you really want to do on vacation on the very first day possible. By that logic, we should have gone on Saturday, but we absolutely needed to do laundry. And they predicted rain. And my legs ached from a bad fall in Kyoto the day before.
So we put the trip off until Sunday — and woke to rain. One of my sources said the cemetery would be closed in bad weather, but I hoped a gentle rain wouldn’t be considered bad enough.
I lost that gamble.
All that way to Japan, then the walk to the station in Tokyo, then the train ride to Yokohama, and the hike up the hill to the graveyard: only to find the cemetery paths blocked with chains.
I would have cried, but since none of the cemetery volunteers were in evidence, that wouldn’t have done me much good. Instead, we visited the Tin Toy Museum nearby, which was highly entertaining, and went to a waffle restaurant for lunch.
The cemetery never opened, so we shot what photos we could over the fence.
I really like the photo above, since it shows the variety of monuments in the cemetery. There’s the old mossy green tablet stone, more modern granite monuments (several of which look like books), and the tall upright Japanese square column. I suspect the Westerners received full-body burials with a service performed by a Christian or Jewish authority, while the Japanese were cremated and their ashes interred beneath their monuments by Buddhist priests.
Maybe contrast isn’t the word I want so much as spectrum. I love the cross-cultural spectrum of the Americans, English, Scots, French, Germans, Russians, and Japanese all lying together on the same hillside — and that only includes the languages I read on stones I could see from outside from the walls.
Despite the viciously hungry mosquitoes, the cemetery visit gave me a sense of peace. The cemetery was an oasis away from the frenetic neighborhood where we were staying in Tokyo. I’m disappointed I didn’t get to walk the paths, but without insect repellent, the trip would have been curtailed anyway.
I’ll go back some day — on the first possible day of my trip — but I’ll go back armed with bug spray.
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
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
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
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
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.
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