Friday, October 25, 2013

Go Local :: The Japanese Cemetery Park {日本人墓地公園}

There are some days when I feel quite overwhelmed and imbalanced in life. A little morbid idea popped in my head and I thought going to see some dead would put some perspective back, so I turned to Jerome to ask for some recommendations of cemeteries to visit in Singapore. With his vast knowledge and interest in Singapore heritage, he's my go-to guy when I'm looking for historical attractions or places off-the-beaten-path to visit here :)

Jerome recommended that I go to the Japanese Cemetery Park {日本人墓地公園}, which is, surprisingly, rather near home! It is the largest Japanese cemetery in Southeast Asia at 29,359 square metres, consisting of 910 tombstones that contain the remains Japanese that lived in Singapore, including Japanese prostitutes {唐行きさん, karayuki-san}, civilians, soldiers and convicted war criminals executed in Changi Prison.

In fact, it started out as a burial ground specially for the karayuki-san, who formed the largest segment of the Japanese population working in Singapore between 1870 - 1920. Jerome wrote an extensive post about it, and I was very intrigued to go. In fact, Jerome said he'll show me around so last week, we went down with a few other friends to explore. I didn't really think Lil Pumpkin would like a walk among gravestones ;p

It was so beautiful. I spent some time in Japanese temples when I visited Hiroshima, and one of the rooms I stayed in actually overlooked a temple graveyard. Exploring the local Japanese Cemetery Park brought back memories of my time there. I felt like I was back in Japan. It's not eerie at all, just very serene and peaceful.

There are a few notable graves there like that of Yamamoto Otokichi {山本 音吉, aka John Matthew Ottoson} who was the first Japanese resident in Singapore, and memorials to Terauchi Hisaichi {寺内 寿一, Supreme Commander of Southern Command of the Japanese Imperial Army}, Futabatei Shimei {二葉亭 四迷, Japan's first modern novelist}, & Tani Yutaka {タニ・ユタカ, secret agent for the Japanese military who died in Singapore}.

At the entrance of the cemetery, there's a map in English showing the notable landmarks inside. There are signboards around marking the graves but the explanations are all in Japanese.  

No new burials have been allowed there since 1973. Currently, the Japanese Association of Singapore maintains the cemetery, which has since become a memorial park since 1987. It is still popular with Japanese tourists, veterans, and residents living in the vicinity. The sky was such a lovely blue that day!

There are 2 heritage trees designated by the National Parks Board {NParks} in the park - an old lychee tree and old rubber tree that remained from the time when the park was a rubber plantation. Heritage trees are recognised to be of special botanical, historical or cultural significance. They are usually majestic and mature trees that exemplify how trees can become if they are conserved and given the proper care.

This is the Saiyuji Temple {or now known as the Singapore Temple Hall}. Although many Buddha statues are enshrined in it, the prayer hall was built for non-religious purposes. I asked Jerome if there were religious services at the cemetery during O-bon {お盆, Japanese Buddhist event to commemorate the dead} and he said yes. It would be interesting to come by then and watch. It is usually observed between 15 July - 15 August {depending on the area you stay}.

So thankful to have found this gem of a place nearby to come and contemplate in peace.

Japanese Cemetery Park {日本人墓地公園}
22 Chuan Hoe Avenue
Free admission.
Open 8am - 7pm daily.

Other Singapore heritage places:


Aroha @ Colours of Sunset said...

*shudder* Are those houses in the 5th picture? I'm not sure I could buy a house that backed on to a cemetery like that. My mum and I checked out a couple of cemeteries in New Orleans...they are quite a sight, but still sent chills down my spine. Hope you found the perspective you were seeking xo

Jacana said...

Putting it on the list for the next trip to Singapore. Thanks for sharing

Stacy said...

Heh the places you go, Ai! This DOES look very peaceful though. Love your pic of the heritage tree.

Delphine said...

I love visiting cemeteries! Will try to check this out.

Seana Smith said...

I've always found grave yards very peaceful places... the ones here in Sydney and in Scotland look very different but I bet the atmosphere is the same.

Ai Sakura said...

Aroha: yes it's in the middle of a residential estate actually! I really didn't think it was eerie, but maybe I'd feel differently with a visit at night haha. Thanks dear x

Jacana: no worries, I hope you'd enjoy it :)

Stacy: thanks! I love moss!!!

Delphine: yes do! And ring me if you come by :) it's so near home.

Seana: I've never made it a point to visit cemeteries while traveling.. I should look out for them more to see how different it is in various countries :)

Ruth said...

I didn't know such a place existed! I like what you said about how visiting a graveyard can possibly put some perspective back in our lives. We all need to be reminded from time to time about our own mortality and cherish what we have.

Unknown said...

Would have been interesting to read what was on the tomb stones Ai.
We have an old cemetary near us that has a playground right next to it - such a juxtaposition of life really as one hears the kids playing there.

mail4rosey said...

I've toured one once when we visited friends in Scotland they took us.

I'm glad you found one close by to you!

Christy Wong @ said...

I have been there once as part of a car rally event in my previous company. But hearing you said that visiting the dead put back some balance and perspective in your life is something worth pondering and trying out. Thanks for this wonderful post. I think I may need it at this point in my life.

Unknown said...

It may be morbid but the stories you can find at cemeteries are amazing. Like the husband and wife buried together and dies a week apart and the tombstone inscribed with messages from the family about not being able to live without the other. I always take a walk if I visit. I cant say I've visited to just see a cemeteray though. Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos

Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me said...

I also find peace at cemeteries, they are such special places. Thanks for the insight Ai, and the reminder that beauty can be found in all spaces x

An Apel a Day said...

It looks like that place is flooded with history! I love it.

Lydia C. Lee said...

I wish I'd seen this before we went - that looks quite fascinating. I read about the other cemetery that they do heritage tours in, and they're fighting to stop development in...great pics, by the way