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Landscape of life and death

I am interested in the differences between Japanese cemeteries and Western ones, and in 2019 I visited some rural cemeteries on the East Coast of the US. At one time in North America, graveyards lay next to residential areas, but after the 1830s, as a result of urban population growth and public health concerns, they began to be established in areas where nature was plentiful on the outskirts of cities. The clear separation between the city and the cemetery is said to have played a major role in transforming the burial ground from a profane space into a sacred one.

What became apparent to me on visiting these rural cemeteries was that they serve as both a place where family and friends pay their respects to the dead and as a space of contemplation to ease the minds of the living. At the entrance to one of these establishments, I was ushered in by an attendant with the words “Welcome. Please enjoy your visit.” In the uninviting cemeteries of Japan, such a greeting would scarcely ever be heard. To see gravestones, the symbol of death, overlying such unspoilt, living nature outside the city produced a sensation in me that I had never experienced before.

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