This is a Throwback Thursday post, with pictures from our trip to Japan in 2004.
The Japan Visitor blog recently published a post about the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery. It was especially interesting to me because Maria’s family tomb is there.
The Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery… is an important historical site dating from the late Edo and early Meiji periods, when Japan was opening up to the world under pressure from Western powers. [It] was established in 1854 when a sailor, Robert Williams, on Commodore Perry’s flagship The Mississippi died after a fall on Perry’s second voyage to Japan. Permission was asked of the Japanese shogunal authorities to bury the sailor onshore and to provide a resting place for any future Americans who died in Japan.
The post goes on to describe the most well known foreigners buried there. Among them were:
- The founder of the first Boy Scouts’ troop in Japan
- The first foreign-born rakugo comic (Rakugo is a traditional Japanese form of comedic storytelling)
- The Frenchman who taught the Meiji Emperor French
- The Frenchman who introduced the baguette and French confectionaries to Japan (thank you!)
- A physician who was instrumental in spreading rugby in Japan
- The Prussian penologist who helped setup Japan’s penal system
The post is great, but there’s even more about the place that’s worth sharing.
We were there in 2004, to visit Maria’s family tomb, which is in the section reserved for Catholics. To this day, Catholics (and Christians in general) are very rare in Japan. Maria’s great-grandmother became Catholic, and the tradition was passed down through the women in the family (Maria has 3 aunts who are nuns). Even though her family is native Japanese, they probably chose to be buried there since it was specifically for Catholics.
In the main section of the cemetery, there are also many graves for unknown foreigners, who were killed in the Namamugi and Idogaya incidents (these were attacks by samurai on foreigners in the 1860s). The post didn’t mention one of the cemetery’s most memorable tombstones, which is shaped like a safe, and bears the inscription “they say you can’t take it with you, but I did.” There’s also a monument in the shape of a giant beer stein, dedicated to the Germans who first taught the Japanese how to brew beer. The main section of the foreigner’s side was closed the day we visited, so unfortunately I don’t have pictures of them (Maria had seen them on a previous visit).
It is a district with a very particular and almost unique atmosphere in Japan, since it doesn’t seem to be in Japan. When the port of Yokohama was opened to foreign trade in 1959, foreigners were allowed to settle in the area… From then on, more and more wealthy Westerners moved to this area, building a lot of Western-style houses, churches, schools and buildings, many of which still remain today.
My blog has been quiet for a while, as we’ve been recovering from various colds and flus, and getting settled back at home after 6 months in Fukuoka. There’s a lot of stuff I still want to write about from our time in Fukuoka, so stay tuned!