Shinjuku Walk amongst the Tombstones

Shinjuku CemetaryThe west side of Shinjuku is dominated by towering skyscrapers and wide avenues typical of New York city rather than compact Tokyo. It was a cold wet day and we were seeking out the indoor wonders of Japan. Specifically we were on a pilgrimage to the 26th floor of the Shinjuku L Tower which our guidebook said, housed the high-tech showroom of Toto’s latest and greatest in electronic toilets.

An underground maze of walkways connected the train station to the office towers.  After wondering around and we finally found the L Tower, only to discover that Toto had moved its showroom to another building.

No matter.

The view from the 26th floor was spectacular.  A panoramic view of Tokyo stretching far and wide.  From this vantage point we saw a interesting site. Unmentioned in the guidebook (and later, undiscovered in  Google searches), it looked like an ancient cemetery nestled amonsgt the ultra modern skyscrapers.   We decided to venture forth and explore.

The cemetery was a quiet haven, tucked behind the tall buildings, roads and flying overpasses.  The family plots were laid out in a rough grid of neighborhoods connected by crooked stone walkways.   A typical Japanese grave (haka) consists of a monument with a place for flowers, incense and water in front, and a chamber or crypt underneath for the cremated remains.  Beside or behind the tombstones are tall wooden stakes (sotobas) inscribed with the  post-humous names of the dead. The names are appointed after death to prevent spirits from being accidentally summoned when their life names are called. The stakes are provided shortly after death and in later years, during memorial services.

The family plots  seemed very old.  It was hard to tell from the inscriptions but the really old stones were worn down with age and moss. They were easily over a  hundred years old. It felt like they’d been around for a long time. Like they’d quietly watched the old Tokyo fade, change and re-build around them.

Tokyo, January 2016

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