When your feet are killing you, rest in peace at the cemetery!

Particularly for people coming to Japan from other countries, one common gripe is the severe lack of outdoor seating such as benches. However, there is one place where such seating is surprisingly ample —Nagasaki cemeteries!

Taking a stroll through any graveyard in Nagasaki Prefecture, you’re likely to find a lot of benches, stools, and tables scattered among the monuments marking family graves.

However, before those of you in other parts of Japan start packing a picnic basket and polishing a talisman, bear in mind that this is a feature unique to Nagasaki only.

Nagasaki is a historically unique part of Japan. While the country remained closed off for centuries under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate (1639-1854), Nagasaki was an exception in which trade between foreign countries was tolerated. As a result it was exposed to cultural influences not seen elsewhere.

▼ Japanese castella cake, which was imported from Europe, originated in Nagasaki.

One Nagasaki custom that likely came from China, was the act of setting off fireworks in cemeteries. This combined with the Japanese holiday season of Obon in August, when the spirits of deceased ancestors are said to return to the realm of the living. It was fortunate for Nagasaki people who didn’t need to worry about waking the dead with their festive explosives, because they were already up.

▼ Nagasaki in general has an above-average affinity for fireworks

Obon customs vary from region to region in Japan but for the most part, families gather at graves, wash them, pray, and give offerings such as a One Cup of sake. In Nagasaki, however, families also shoot off some bottle rockets and have a meal while among the dead, so it’s very practical to have some seating there as well.

It’s such a common habit in the southern prefecture that you’ll probably find most graveyards are located on hillsides for the ideal firework-shooting views. 

Our Japanese-language writer Mariko Ohanabatake, who hails from Nagasaki, was surprised to find that her annual custom was unheard of elsewhere in Japan, even in her neighboring prefectures. Since visiting graves are solely family affairs that involve returning to hometowns, people rarely see the customs of other areas, keeping them relatively insulated to their respective regions.

That’s not the only thing unique to Nagasaki cemeteries either. Unlike other parts of Japan, graves here are usually engraved with gold lettering.

Nagasaki family graves also tend to have smaller monuments honoring the “earth god” next to the main monument. Both of these features are believed to have come from Chinese culture as well.

You’re likely to find unique touches to Obon anywhere you go in Japan, but in general, if you want to see a slightly different side of Japanese culture, there’s a whole lot to discover in Nagasaki.

Photos: ©SoraNews24
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