Without doubt Aoyama Cemetery, is one of the best places for photography in Tokyo, and a walk through it can lead you to knowing more about the city. The cemetery has so much to offer photographers and it can also serve as a great history teacher. You can find out who has been important in Tokyo, when they were important, and in some cases, why they were important. It is really worth of a visit, preferably with camera in hand.
I love walking around Aoyama Cemetery. The architecture of the tombstones, and the graves themselves can be very cool! There are also huge monoliths covered in kanji (the Chinese characters) telling something of what the person did in life; lanterns, mound-shaped crypts; Shinto and Buddhist architecture on the graves such as having little torii (the gates at shrines), while just a short distance away will be another grave with a large Christian cross above it - a wide range of religious beliefs. Others have busts of the person interred placed above them. All these things make this cemetery a photographer's paradise.
And it is a beautiful place. The grounds are covered in trees that block out the sounds of the city which make it a quiet and peaceful place to walk through, much like Shinjuku Gyoen in that respect. From inside the cemetery you can see quite a few skyscrapers, like Tokyo Midtown pop up over the trees, which make for a great sight. Spring is a great time for a visit, with so many cherry blossom trees there. It can be pretty amazing as in some areas the trees branch out with over the paths from both sides creating a flower tunnel for you to walk under!
And the history there is incredible. Aoyama was established in 1872, which was the era when Japan was in the process of connecting itself back to the world. So, many important people from that time are interred there. Politicians, soldiers, artists, musicians, athletes - the list goes on and on, Japanese and non-Japanese. For example, even if you spent some of your time looking at the foreign section of Aoyama and examined the headstones there you would learn the names of people who came from so many countries like Italy, France, the UK and the US and made big contributions to Japan's modernization.
Some of the important historical graves/memorials there are: 1) Hachiko, the dog!; 2) General Maresuke Nogi, one of the heroes from the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, and; 3) a memorial dedicated to the warship Unebi that was lost at sea, with all hands and without a trace. Hachiko's grave is tiny and next to that of his master; Nogi's grave, with his wife next to him, occupy a nice spot on a small hill, and; the Unebi memorial is rather large, and very dignified in my opinion.
If you are looking for a great place to photograph in Tokyo, Aoyama Cemetery is for you. Granted, for some people, a cemetery might be a weird place to visit but I think this one is definitely one of the best places in Tokyo for those with a camera. You can see the cemetery's Japanese website here.
Photography tips for Aoyama Cemetery
Any lens can work in this cemetery. Wide angle, primes and zooms will all find some useful purpose. Due to the wide spaces available and surrounds, long exposures will work well too.
How to get to Aoyama Cemetery?
From Gaienmae station on the Ginza line, it is about a 10 minute walk, leave via exit 1B. You can also get there from Nogizaka station on the Chiyoda line which is about a 15 minute walk. Here is a Google map to help you:
Aoyama cemetery is open 24 hours a day, but its office is open from 8:30am to 5:15pm.
If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy:
Gotokuji - where you can find the famous Maneki Neko;
History Garage - in Odaiba, the ultimate place for car lovers;
Inokashira park - one of Tokyo's most popular parks;
Imperial Palace - home to Japan's emperor, and;
Japan Open-Air Folk house museum - learn a little about Japan's housing history.