I don’t know if it’s weird, but I love going to cemeteries.
In Sapporo, there is a special one found at the outskirts of the city. It’s not particularly old, but there are lots of interesting monuments that will make you scratch your head. I mean, who would expect to see Stonehenge at a burial site?
The real Stonehenge in England is a burial site, isn’t it?
I should probably clarify my opening statement with the word old cemeteries, as in historical. The ones in Japan are particularly special, as they are usually located next to shrines that have been built centuries before.
Something like this:
But at the Takino Reien, you’ll see something more like this:
Yes, those are Moai giants behind some statues of Hokkaido deer.
But I’m jumping ahead of myself.
Takino Reien is an actual cemetery and people have their family plots here. It is especially crowded during the week of Obon as most families come to pay respects to their ancestors. It is a Japanese tradition.
Further away from the actual cemetery is space for some sightseeing, I guess.
I’m not sure if that’s the correct word for it, but curious people like me come here to see these famous structures that were built to attract crowds. I mean, what is the purpose of building such monuments, right?
In any case, when we were there, there were lots of tour groups.
The first thing you’ll see when you drive into the park, past the actual grave sites, is the miniature Stonehenge.
You can’t actually go close to the structure as it’s blocked off. There are signs that tell you to not go any closer–so you have to stand a little bit apart and take some photos.
I think it’s better that you’re farther off from the circle of stones, anyway. You lose the effect if you take photos up close. The photo that encompasses the entire structure is better as it shows how much of a replica it is to the real thing.
The park area itself is huge, so there’s lots of walking involved if you don’t have a car. From Stonehenge, there’s a fifteen minute walk towards the Moai Statues and the Hill of the Buddha.
You cannot miss the Moai Statues. They are just too big!
There is an opening between the rows of giants, which serves as the entrance to the bus station. The bus stop is located behind the statues and there is a small indoor waiting area as well as an outdoor one.
However, the main draw in this area is the work of the architect, Tadao Ando. His Hill of the Buddha is amazing. It is located right across the Moai area.
Getting there takes about five minutes on foot. Be careful crossing the street because there is no designated cross walk and the cars zip around too fast.
You enter through the gates and you’ll pass a miniature Japanese garden.
Past that, you’ll see some fierce-looking white dog-dragons.
You’ll see the hill of lavender plants on your right–you can’t actually go up there as it’s also blocked off. We went in September, so the lavender plants have already dried up, but you can still see the remnants of the flowers. Right at the top, the head of the Buddha is peeking out.
We missed the lavender season, but I think I want to come again during that time. If I have time in the winter, I’ll take another trip to the cemetery then. The park is open all year, so seeing the area during different seasons might be worth it.
Before you enter the hall of the Buddha, you’ll see two water purification fountains. For cleansing, it’s the same as you would when you visit a shrine or temple. First, you take the ladle with your right hand and fill it with water from the pool or the fountain. You wash your left hand, switch the ladle to that hand, then wash your right hand. You pour some water into your hand and rinse out your month, spitting the excess water into the side. You cleanse the ladle and then put it back.
You’re met on the inside by a reflecting pool. On the far side, to the left is the exhibit for Ando’s works. On the left side, the cafe and souvenir shop (of course).
You go past the reflecting pool where a giant lantern sits. You can light incense, but you don’t have to.
Then you walk through an oval tunnel and you look out into the headless Buddha in sitting position. Then you get closer, and under the blinding sun, you see his face.
It’s all very Zen–very serene and beautiful.
I really liked the atmosphere of this area. There were a lot of visitors on that day, so it was difficult to find some of the quiet you’d want for meditation, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The architecture was spare and I liked the simplicity of everything. It was all concrete, gray and very cold.
This style was also brought into the cafe/souvenir shop, too.
I recommend going if you’ve got the chance. It’s a little far from Sapporo so expect to spend two to three hours here. Just getting here will take some time, so make sure you plan accordingly.