"Having walked through times
when there was no such great war,
My thoughts go out to
the people who had lived through
those days of cruel hardship"
The poem above was written by the current Emperor and written in the hand of Princess Hitachi to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the war's end in September 2005. It is one of two poems inscribed in stone found in the courtyard of Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery. The other was written by the Showa Emperor (usually known outside Japan as Hirohito). I think it is a very fitting tribute to the more than 360, 000 people who lie there.
The main purpose of the cemetery, completed in 1959, is to house the remains of unidentified soldiers and civilians killed overseas during World War Two. In the middle of the complex under a hexagonal roof is a five-ton ceramic coffin, which is one of the biggest ceramic objects in the world. It is made from stones and pebbles that were gathered from all the major conflict zones that Japan was involved in during World War II. Inside is a gilt bronze urn in the shape of a tea jar - a gift from the Showa Emperor - in which the enshrined remains symbolise all those who died during the war. Under the coffin, in a large chamber, is an ossuary which contains the remains of the dead.
Chidorigafuchi is an impressive and dignified place. I still remember the first time I went there many years ago. At that time, walking around, it was deserted and with the huge trees blocking out a lot of the sights and sounds of the city and seeing that huge ceramic coffin was quite an experience - thinking of how each person came to be there and wondering if they would ever be identified and returned to their families.
Also, on the grounds you’ll find a memorial for those who lost their lives while trying to return home as well as one for those who lost their lives while in captivity in the Soviet Union. If you need to take a break while you’re there, there is a room next to the administration office for you and a corner there with some relics brought back from the war.
It's interesting to watch the visitors. They are mostly of the older generation, veteran’s groups, individuals and sometimes family groups offering flowers and prayers. Everyone quietly does their thing and moves on, occasionally a group photo, but that is it. The only time I've seen more than a dozen people there at one time is during the cherry blossom when the boathouse over the road gets very crowded and people will come over for a look.
Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery is small so you probably won't be there long, but if you are in the area it is a nice place to visit. It is run by the Ministry of the Environment and you can see its (English) website here.
How to get to Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery
There are two subway stations nearby, Hanzomon station and Kudashita station. Hanzomon station is probably best for people coming from the direction of Shibuya and the Kudanshita is probably best for people coming from Shinjuku. We have a Google map here to give you some help:
From April 1 to September the September 30, the cemetery is open from 9am to 5pm.
From October 1 to March 31, it is open from 9am to 4pm.
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