Ieyasu Tokugawa seized power in Japan in 1600, then became Shogun in 1603. The shogun after him was his son Hidetada, who was in turn followed by his son, Iemitsu. There were twelve more until the final one in 1868. So, my question to you is … who was the last shogun? When did he die and where was he buried?
Did you say Yoshinobu Tokugawa who died in 1913 and that he was buried in Yanaka cemetery? Yes? Then you gave three correct answers! Today, you can still visit his grave at that cemetery in Tokyo’s Taito ward. It is an incredible piece of Japanese history. (2)
Surprisingly, his grave is rather small, built of what looks like cobblestones. I’ve heard some people call it a pot-shaped, but I’m not sure if that is a suitable description. Unfortunately, you can only view it from behind a gate. The plot is quite large, with many family members, including his wife Mikako and some children (mortality rates in those days were quite high unfortunately) and companions, buried near him. It is very beautiful in my opinion.
But Yanaka isn't only about Yoshinobu. There are many more that include: actors, actresses, sumo wrestlers, prime ministers, mayors of Tokyo, poets, writers, painters, saints (a Russian one!), educators and politicians. Many of their graves can be found on a map which is available at the administration building. The problem is that even though the names are in English and numbered, the gravestones are written in Japanese which might be problematic for many people. However, Yoshinobu`s is easy to find as there are some signs within the cemetery in both Japanese and English.
When to visit Yanaka? Definitely spring or autumn. The central road through it is called, "Sakura-dori" (or Cherry Blossom Road), which make for an amazing sight when in bloom. In autumn, you can enjoy the cemetery’s magnificent ginkgo trees.
In some ways Yanaka is comparable to Aoyama and Zoshigaya. They all have areas that are in a very natural state. And in some areas there are neglected graves. But, it is a great experience and very pleasant to walk through. And while walking, look around and you'll even be able to get some pictures of Tokyo Skytree popping up over the tombstones and trees. It’s great for pictures.
If you are looking for something to do in Tokyo or enjoy some of its history, a stroll through Yanaka cemetery might be just what you need, especially in the seasons I mentioned! You can see its (Japanese) website here.
How to get to Yanaka cemetery
Yanaka cemetery is so easy to get to. It is on the west side of Nippori station, which is on the Yamanote line. Leave via the West exit and you`ll find the steps leading up to the cemetery nearby. Here is a Google map to help you:
The administration building is open from 8:30 am to 5:15 pm and can be contacted on 03-3821-4456. Yanaka cemetery itself is open 24 hours a day.
If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy:
History Museum - learn a little of the Japan's automobile world
Inkoshira park – one of Tokyo’s most popular parks
Musashi Imperial Graveyard – see the burial place of two Japanese emperors
Rainbow Bridge – an amazing walk that has some great views of the city
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building - has a great observatory that is completely FREE!