When I started this blog more than a year ago, my first post was a photo of Eliza Scidmore’s grave site in Yokohama, sent to me by a Japanese friend. I knew at the time I would eventually have to travel to Japan to do research for my book on Eliza—and to see her grave site.
Today I joined members of the Eliza Scidmore Cherry Blossom Society (Sakura-no-Kai) at an annual memorial service at her grave.
Kaoru Onji, a retired professor of organic chemistry, coordinates the activities of the Eliza Scidmore Society. Assisting her is Mina Ozawa, director of the Yamate Museum. This year about three dozen members of the Society and other guests gathered amid fierce winds for the brief ceremony, then enjoyed a buffet luncheon.
The society grew from a group of people who shared an interest in Eliza Scidmore‘s story after her book Jinrikisha Days in Japan was translated into Japanese. In 1987 they visited her grave during cherry-blossom season to pay tribute. The ritual has continued. Today the group has about 50 members.
In 1991 the group planted by the grave a flowering cherry descended from one of the 3,000 trees Japan gave to Washington a century ago. Because the blooming season came two weeks earlier than expected this year, “Eliza’s tree” had already peaked at the time of the memorial service.
Fortunately, I visited the cemetery soon after I arrived in Yokohama so I got to see the handsome tree in its glory. Its very large canopy overhangs the grave, so it’s nice to think that the petals fall on Eliza’s place of rest.
The tombstone, flat and rectangular with a peaked “roof,” was originally installed for Eliza’s mother, who lived in Yokohama and died in 1916. Her name, Eliza Catherine Scidmore, is most prominent. The ashes of Eliza’s brother George, who was the consul-general of Yokohama for many years, were added after his death in 1922. Eliza was living in Geneva, Switzerland, at her death in 1928 and had left instructions that she wanted no memorial. But friends in Geneva arranged a small service, and her ashes were carried to Yokohama for interment at the cemetery.
George’s name is inscribed below that of his mother, on the lower front face of the tombstone. Eliza’s name is on a side panel. A small plaque next to it says: “A woman who loved cherry blossoms rests here in peace.”
The cemetery, officially called Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery, is on a hill overlooking the harbor. The neighborhood — once called the Bluff and today Yamate — was neighborhood of many foreign residents.
The cemetery has about 4,200 graves, many dating from Yokohama’s early growth as a major port city. As Japan underwent rapid modernization in the Meiji era, the government hired several thousand foreigners as teachers and technical advisers. Some stayed permanently in Japan and are buried here. Others include sailors, missionaries, businessmen and many victims of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that leveled much of Yokohama.
The Eliza Scidimore Society also installed an informational panel about Eliza at the foot of the hill. Next to it is another cherry tree, a third-generation descendent of one of the first cherry trees in Washington.