The Japanese Cemetery Park in Singapore

Located at 22 Chuan Hoe Avenue just off Yio Chu Kang Road, the Japanese Cemetery Park is a tranquil and peaceful park located amidst an array of private houses along Parry Avenue. It is also South-East Asia’s largest and best-preserved Japanese Cemetery and has an estimated 910 tombs that include those of war criminals, prominent businesses man and Japanese prostitutes, also known as karayuki-san (meaning going to ‘China’ or‘Going overseas’)

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The Japanese cemetery park entrance

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A well-maintained park that lends an aura of tranquility to the quiet neighbourhood


Early beginnings

In 1891, three brothel keepers Futaki Takajiro, Shibuya Ginji and Nakagawa Kikuzo, obtained a plot of land from the Government to provide a peaceful burial ground for Japanese prostitutes, who formed the largest segment of the Japanese working population from 1870 to 1920. These graves make up roughly half of the tombs at the cemetery, many of which had wooden markers which were replaced by constructions during the period of  renovation works.

Tombs of the Japanse prostitutes or karayuki-san (meaning going to ‘China’ or ‘Going overseas’)

The three brothel owners bought grounds for the cemetery to serve as peaceful resting grounds for the Karayuki-san

The three brothel owners bought grounds for the cemetery to serve as peaceful resting grounds for the Karayuki-san, many of whom came from poor households during the Meiji-era in Japan

Pre-war years
As the Japanese community in Singapore became wealthier and more affluent with the onset of the industralisation age, more tombs became dedicated to those involved in sectors like mining, publishing and agriculture.

Designs of tombs also became more elaborate, with stone sculptures of Japanese deities, Corinthian-styled columns, fences and gates starting to line the increasing number of graves.

Fences or gates were reserved for the more prominent graves

Fences or gates were reserved for the more prominent graves

Stone sculptures that include that of Japanse deities line some of the graves

Stone sculptures that include that of Japanse deities line some of the graves

Some of the more prominent individuals buried during this time include Russian novelist Futabei Shimei and businessman Yoshio Nishimura,  who committed suicide in 1934 whilst under investigation by Special Forces of espionage. Nishimura’s death made headlines in the newspapers and was the largest funeral ever held at the cemetery and was attended by over 500 mourners.

The tomb of Russian Novelist Futabei Shimei

The tomb of Russian Novelist Futabei Shimei

Japanese Occupation
This tumultuous period of the Japanese Occupation once again changed the direction of the cemetery, with memorials and tombs dedicated to War Criminals and soldiers who committed suicide before being captured.

The most prominent tomb belongs to that of Field Marshall Count Hisaichi Terauchi, the Supreme Commander of Japanese Forces in Southeast Asia who died while in captivity as a Prisoner Of War on 12 June 1946 in Johor.

On 30 March 1955, a memorial for 135 executed Japanese war criminals responsible for events like the Sook Ching massacre was built, with another monument commemorating 79 war criminals hanged in states in Malaysia located next to it.

The war memorial in memory of Japanese War Criminals and those that committed suicide before being a captured

The war memorial in memory of Japanese War Criminals and those that committed suicide before being  captured

The tomb of Field Marshall Count Hisaichi Terauchi, the Supreme Commander of Japanese Forces in Southeast Asia

The tomb of Field Marshall Count Hisaichi Terauchi, the Supreme Commander of Japanese Forces in Southeast Asia

Cemetery Ownership
Throughout the years of its existence, the cemetery has changed ownership many times, from the Japanese Association (1917-1942) to Shonan Patriotic Service Association(1942-1945), before it was left in disuse till 1955 when the Japanese Government provided funds for restoration after signing a peace treaty with Singapore back in 1951.

It was eventually transferred over to the Japanese Association in 1969 who proceeded to make renovations with donations from the community and foreign ministry. Renovations also included the reconstruction of the old Saiyuji Temple (now known as the Singapore Temple Hall) in 1986.

It was only in 1987 after construction that it was renamed the Japanse Cemetery Park and promoted as both a heritage and tourist site to visitors.

Most recently in Feb 2005, a commemoration ceremony for the recovery of the remains of Singapore’s first Japanese resident Otokichi Yamamoto was held.

Saiyuji Temple (now known as the Singapore Temple Hall) was reconstructed in 1986 but does not serve any religious purpose.

Saiyuji Temple (now known as the Singapore Temple Hall) was reconstructed in 1986 but does not serve any religious purpose.

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Grave of first Japanse resident in Singapore Yamamoto Otokichi

Thoughts on the Cemetery and War Criminals
Personally I did feel a bit conflicted about the cemetery, for while it was such a welcoming and peaceful cemetery park, I also thought to myself why such a place that commemorated war criminals existed, whilst places like Bukit Brown and Bidadari that housed many prominent forefather were given up for rampant modernisation. It is a rather touchy subject that curiously has never been debated.

Perhaps it is due to the lack of knowledge of the history behind the place, but I definitely do think it is something worth thinking about.

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The Hinomote Guardian deity (tall white statue in background) stands as a rememberence to 41 Japanse civilians who died while waiting for repatriation in an internment camp in Jurong

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Wasn’t too sure if this was Lim Keok Kee the adopted son of the cemetery’s first caretaker Zhang Ya Gong who passed away in 1960. Zhang’s grave is located within the compounds of the cemetery.

Memorial Plaza that do not contain the bodies but commemorate many prominent Japanese individuals

Memorial Plaza that do not contain any physical remains but commemorate many prominent Japanese individuals

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A well-maintained park that lends an aura of tranquility to the quiet neighbourhood

Info taken from Infopedia 

Images courtesy of Tay Shuyun

One comment

  1. Pingback: Heritage Trail – p1637975

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