The Japanese Cemetery Park is the largest Japanese cemetery in South East Asia at 29,359 square metres, consisting of 910 tombstones that contain the remains of young Japanese prostitutes, civilians, soldiers and convicted war criminals executed at Changi Prison in Singapore.
A Japanese brothel owner, Tagajiro Fukaki, donated seven acres of his rubber plantation to be used as a burial ground for young Japanese women who died in destitution. The British Colonial Government officially granted permission for this use on 26 June 1891. Since then, it was used to bury Japanese residents. During the Second World War, the cemetery was used to bury civilians and soldiers who lost their lives in the battlefield or to illness.
There are quite a few notable graves here, one of which is of Yamamoto Otokichi, also known as “John Matthew Ottoson”. He was born in Onoura Village at Chita District of Owari (now Mihama Town of Aichi Prefecture) in 1818. In 1832, he was a sailor onboard the ship “Hojun-maru” which sail from Ise Bay to Tokyo. The ship drifted out of the sea at Toba in a storm. Otokichi managed to survive the disaster and was washed ashore at Cape Alava on the West Coast of America after one year and two months. He eventually travelled around the world but the isolation policy of Japan at that time denied his return to his home country. Even after being rejected by his home country, he still stayed proud to be a Japanese and helped to promote the opening of the country. He later became a successful trader. In 1862, Otokichi moved from Shanghai and stayed in Singapore with his Malay wife to become the first Japanese resident here. He died at the age of 49 in 1867.
Today, the Japanese Association of Singapore still continues to maintain the cemetery which has since became a memorial park in 1987 for the appreciation of history and for its natural flora and fauna. The cemetery park is often visited by Japanese students, veterans, residents and tourists. It is a lasting legacy of the history of Japan and Singapore.
If you haven’t already heard, there is a geocache hidden somewhere in the park. We enjoyed the tranquility of the park as we walked past and read the inscriptions on tombstones of Japanese residents, keeping our eyes peeled for the elusive cache at the same time.
After a bit of searching, we finally found the cache hiddden in a crack in the wall. Geocaching is a worldwide game of hiding and seeking treasure and anyone with a GPS device can try to locate the geocache.
We got distracted by some free range chickens roaming the compound, and I couldn’t help but take some photos of them. They were people friendly and came to us when we made clucking noises.
The Prayer Hall of the Japanese Cemetery is out of bound to visitors. But peering in, you can see many Buddha statues are enshrined in it. Strangely enough, the prayer hall was built for non-religious purposes.