Inagawa Cemetery Forest Memorial Site “Watch Over Hill” Forest Memorial
Nestled into the Hokusetsu Mountain Range, Inagawa Cemetery is ensconced in a natural setting that encompasses this forest memorial site within. A growing interest in memorial sites among tree groves has emerged in Japan as burial preferences have reverted to nature. These sites also facilitate re-interment for single-generation and two-generation households that decide to close their ancestral cemetery plots.
The cherry-tree memorial completed at Inagawa in 2020 is an extension of the “flower bed” styled forest cemetery found throughout Japan. This new type of forest memorial, however, offers grave sites that return souls to nature through nature’s course—a much closer arrangement to the original burial in the woods.
The forest memorial’s site is a hillside below the northern Shimokitadani valley embankment of the erosion control dam protecting the Shimokitadani River, a tributary of the Ina River flowing through Inagawa Cemetery. Since the steep hill would hinder access for physically handicapped visitors, a switchback walkway provides a gentler climb. Japanese varieties of zelkova, oak, and ash comprise the taller trees that have been planted together with mountain maple (which turn red in autumn) and flowering mountain varieties of cherry, dogwood, azalea, camellia, and spicebush. Indigenous grasses and plants at ground level create continuity with the original forest.
The initial purpose of forest memorials in Japan was to save natural mountainsides from damaging decay or development. Recent forest memorials, however, have become increasingly artificial, merely grave sites with distant forest views and a few planted trees in the immediate environs around which burial chambers containing urns of remains are gathered.
In contrast to that approach, this memorial aims for the original concept of graves that return to nature. The arrangement is still rare in Japan. No burial chambers are installed for the grave sites that return to nature. Cremated and compressed remains are placed in linen and buried directly in a plot along the walkway. The remains are biodegraded into soil by earthen microbes and converted into calcium phosphate that is absorbed as nutrient by the planted trees, and thus return to nature. The trees, acting as over-ground markers, blossom and lose their leaves in an annual cycle joined by the souls of the buried.
Unlike traditional family units, the graves that return to nature are available in individual units for couples without children, singles, and people who wish to relieve their descendants from cemetery burdens. Thirty years after burial, when the remains have fully returned to nature, the forest is ready to receive the next generation of souls. Fresh nutrients needed for tree growth are supplied and continue to preserve nature’s cycle.
In recent forest memorial formats for permanent remembrance not requiring management fees, in most cases, remains are ultimately exhumed for unified reburial. Cemetery operations cannot continue successfully under permanent interment without unified memorializing. Aligning an economic cycle to nature’s cycle when the site becomes available for the next generation will allow permanent cemetery operations.
A gentle stroll on the walkway leads uphill to the rest shelter, built from concrete with texture matching the embankment of the erosion control dam. The vantage point from the rest house allows anyone to watch over the souls buried under protection of the trees. Further below, clusters of homes can be seen along the narrow valley, as the forest works invisibly to cycle life with outpouring water that nourishes the vast lands stretching outward.
- Site：Inagawa-cho, Hyogo
- Contractor：Memorial Art Ohnoya, Inc.、Beams Construction
- Structure：Delta Structural Consultants
- Site Area：692.66㎡
- Building Area：15.00㎡
- Photography：Tomomi TAKANO