For those who are into cemeteries, Tama is a great place. Just like the other cemeteries in the city, it is filled with history and is an amazing place for photography. I have to admit that while I don’t know this cemetery as well as the others in the city, I can tell you that is worthy of a visit and I will be visiting it many more times in the future.
Tama Cemetery is about a forty-minute train ride from Shinjuku and occupies 128 hectares. 128 hectares is very large, so I doubt you could see all the cemetery in one day. When it was created in 1923, it was known as Tama Graveyard. In 1935 it was renamed Tama Cemetery and has been known by that name ever since. During World War Two, it is said that fighters from nearby Chofu Airport were hidden there.
Just like Aoyama, Zoshigaya and Yanaka cemeteries, the architecture and the history are amazing! There are huge kanji-covered monoliths telling stories; enormous stone lanterns; mound-shaped crypts; Shinto and Buddhist architecture on graves while others have Christian crosses. A columbarium is also on the grounds and is worth a look. If there is one thing that separates Tama from the others, I think, it is that the foreign area has a lot of graves with people who seem to have connections to the Middle East.
Being in a suburban area, there are no large buildings nearby, no skyscrapers visible from Tama Cemtery. The grounds are covered in trees which make it a very quiet and peaceful place to walk through. Spring is a great for a visit, with the one of the roads that lead into having cherry blossom trees on each side of it. Very beautiful!
And the people in there? It is like a Who’s Who of Japanese historical figures. Here is an abbreviated list:
Sadao Araki (1877 -1966) - a senior commander in the Imperial Japanese Army and a right-wing political theorist in the late Japanese Empire
Hachihiro Arita (1884 -1965) – government minister who is believed to have created the concept of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
Ryotaro Azuma (1893 -1983) – doctor, bureaucrat and Governor of Tokyo from 1959 to 1967
Ranpo Edogawa (1894 -1965) - author and critic who played a major role in the development of Japanese mystery fiction
Senjuro Hayashi (1876 -1943) - the Imperial Japanese Army commander and 33rd Prime Minister of Japan
Yaoko Kaitani (1921-1991) – ballerina
Fuyuhiko Kitagawa (1900 -1990) - poet and film critic
Takeo Kurita (1889 -1977) - senior commander in the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II
Yukio Mishima (1925 -1970) – literary figure
Richard Sorge (1895 -1944) - German communist who spied for Russia and executed during WW2
Victor Starffin (1916 -1957) - first professional baseball pitcher in Japan to win three hundred games
Korekiyo Takahashi (1854-1936) – politician and 20th prime minister of Japan (whose residence can be seen at the Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum)
Yoshitsugu Tatekawa (1880 -1945) - senior commander in the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II and ambassador to the Soviet Union
Heihachirō Togo (1848 -1934) - one of Japan's greatest naval heroes
Yōsuke Yamahata (1917 -1966) – photographer, photographer of the Nagasaki bombing
Isoroku Yamamoto (1884-1943) - Admiral and commander-in-chief of the navy during World War II
Akiko Yosano (1878 - 1942) - author, poet, pioneering feminist, pacifist, and social reformer
Shōhei Ōoka (1909 -1988) – literary figure and translator of French literature
Some of the graves you can visit quite easily, others you can’t. All you need to do is visit the administration building and pick up a map, but it is completely in Japanese. Further it only contains the names and locations of about 150 graves. The good point is that at least the all the administrative blocks of the cemetery are marked on it, so if you do find out from the internet where someone’s grave is, it shouldn’t be too hard to find it.
If you are looking for a place to photograph in Tokyo with interesting content, or even just a place to walk, you need to put Tama Cemetery on your list. It might be a little too far out in the suburbs for some people, but once there, the photographic opportunities are very much worth it. You can see the cemetery's website here.
The cemetery is very flat spacious with a wide range of tombstones so any type of lens can work. It’s also the type of place where long exposures can work very well. The only downside to it, is that you can’t get into it earlier than 8 am which rules out taking any sunrise pictures however sunset pictures are very possible. Lastly, if you are going to take a big bag of lenses with you, I recommend using Tama station which is much closer to the cemetery than Tama-Reien (that’s about a twenty-minute walk).
How to get to Tama Cemetery
There are two train station nearby. One is Tama Station on the Seibu-Tamagawa line, which is about a 5-minute walk. The other is Tama-Reien on the Keio line from which it is about a 15-minute walk. Here is a Google map to help you:
From March to September, Tama Cemetery is open from 8 am to 6:30 pm. For the rest of the year (i.e. October to February) it is open from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm.
If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy:
Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum - learn a little about Japan's housing history
Myohoji – one of Toko’s more local temples
Shinjuku Gyoen – one of the most popular parks in Tokyo
Tokyo Kite Museum – a great hobby supported by this tiny museum
Tower Hall Funabori – a tiny observatory, but one with interesting views