Monday, 26 July 2010

Yanaka - Shogun Clocks and the Cemetery

My Visit to Japan - 7

While I was in Tokyo earlier this year I walked through the Yanaka Cemetery.  I was heading for Ueno and then onwards for Fabric Town but the journey became a delightful destination in its own right.
This wasn't a morbid fascination with the dead but rather a glimpse of old Edo and Buddhist traditions.  It was a scenic walk with wonderful trees, flowers and wildlife.
A sudden crashing in the trees saw an enormous raven (or crow, I'm not sure) picking up a polysytrene tray of leftover food and taking it to the top of a nearby tree where it proceeded to feast on a free takeaway breakfast.  People are going to wonder how the tray got into the top of the tree.
Although there were several guided tours taking place in the cemetery it still retained a tranquil atmosphere and a reverent calm and between the trees it was possible to enjoy the cool shadows as the day's heat built up in the city.
Yanaka is one of Tokyo's oldest cemeteries and has approximately 7,000 tombs, including those of very important families and shoguns, and its own police station.  The last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, also known as Keiki, is buried there.  The central path is bordered with cherry trees which would be a fantastic sight when they are in blossom in April - I was too late sadly.  The graves have markers, Sotoba 卒塔婆 ,  pronounced stupa, which are erected shortly after the funeral and show the person's new, posthumous name.  These may be added to on anniversaries or at certain memorial services.  They appear to remain in place at the tomb and look (sorry for my irreverence) like giant wooden lollysticks but with beautiful calligraphy.
In the vicinity of the Yanaka Cemetery is the Tenno-ji Buddhist temple and a few shops selling Buddhist religious objects and the amazing Daimyo Clock Museum.  Here Al and I felt remarkably brave.  It was on our first venturing from our ryokan that we visited this small but fascinating museum.  It appeared to be within a private house, reached through the owner's garden and with no signage!  At the door was a rack of slippers and we gathered, from watching other visitors, that we needed to change from our outdoor shoes and into a pair of slippers.  We would have learned a lot more if we could read Japanese but Al knows enough about old clocks to be spellbound with the display of clocks from the 17th century onwards.
Clock museum shows passage of time | The Japan Times Online


  1. An interesting post. I would imagine you can learn a lot about a country from it's cemeteries.
    Teresa x

  2. So interesting. If I ever get to Japan again I want to visit this place. I will send your link to my friend who lives there, I'm sure he will be interested too.

  3. Feel free Heather, I'm sure he will enjoy his visit.


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