TALES OF THE
NAGASAKI INTERNATIONAL CEMETERIES



Hendrik Duurkoop was an official of the Dutch East India Company. He came to Nagasaki in 
the summer of 1778. He intended to assume the position of director of the trading post on 
Dejima Island in Nagasaki Harbor, but he died of a sudden illness on the ship before reaching 
Japan. His body was carried to Nagasaki and buried in the cemetery for foreigners at 
Goshinji, a Buddhist temple on the hillside overlooking Nagasaki Harbor.  

Hendrik Duurkoop's gravestone is the oldest European grave marker in Japan. Today, it lies 
in the shade of tall camphor trees near Goshinji. The Dutch inscription is still clearly 
legible. There is a carving of an hourglass with wings at the top of the stone. This tells 
visitors that human life flies by quickly. It also seems to tell them how the hundreds of 
foreigners' gravestones in Nagasaki have carried messages over almost four centuries. 


Hendrik Duurkoop's grave at Goshinji.


From Fishing Village to International Port
 
Nagasaki was a tiny fishing village when Portuguese traders and missionaries arrived here in 
1570. After that, the Portuguese exerted a strong influence on Japan. They introduced 
guns, medical techniques and cultural artifacts. The trade with the Portuguese also 
contributed to the economy. But Japanese leaders concluded that missionary work was a 
prelude to colonization. In 1612, the Tokugawa Bakufu banned Christianity and, in 1639, 
expelled all Portuguese residents from Japan. In 1641, the Bakufu ordered the Dutch to 
move their trading post to the artificial island of Dejima. Dejima thus became the only point 
of contact between Japan and the West for the next two centuries.

The Chinese also obtained permission to trade. At the peak of Chinese activity around the 
year 1690, one-sixth of the population of Nagasaki was Chinese. This included merchants, 
laborers and the crews of visiting ships. Chinese Zen masters like Yinyuan (Ingen) and Jifei 
(Sokuhi) exerted a strong influence on Japanese religion and on traditional arts such as 
calligraphy. Today, the Nagasaki Chinese Cemetery is located beside the Dutch Cemetery 
at Goshinji Temple in Inasa. It contains about 230 gravestones. The oldest of these belongs 
to a merchant named Jian Jianglan who died here in 1627.

       
The Chinese graveyard at GoshinjiTemple, and a 19th-century Nagasaki woodcut entitled
"In the Chinese Quarter" showing a Chinese merchant with his Japanese courtesan.
 

The next wave of foreign influence in Nagasaki came in 1853. That year, Rear Admiral 
Putiatin of the Russian East Asian Fleet led his squadron into Nagasaki Harbor and 
submitted a request for a trade pact between Russia and Japan. Putiatin's visit came only 
one month after Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Uraga Bay near Edo and demanded 
the opening of Japan's doors to trade with the United States. Japan signed trade 
agreements with Russia, Britain, France and the United States in 1858. The following year 
Nagasaki and a number of other ports were opened for foreign trade. After that, Nagasaki 
grew into a prosperous trade center, a coal supply port and a rest place for foreign navies.  
It also became a popular stopover for tourists seeking a glimpse of "exotic Japan."

The "Nagasaki Foreign Settlement" in the Oura neighborhood was similar to the foreign 
settlements in Shanghai and other ports in China and India. Euro-American architecture, 
dress, daily customs, industry, technology, and business practices poured into Japan 
through the foreign settlements and contributed to the great changes that occurred in this 
country during the Meiji Period.


Guard Me While I Sleep 

The dramatic increase in the number of foreigners arriving in Japan resulted in a need for 
more burial space. New cemeteries were opened one after another to meet the demand.  
Two were opened at Goshinji Temple in 1859, one near the Oura foreign settlement in 1861, 
and one in the Urakami area (Sakamoto-machi) in 1888. The stories of the people buried in 
these cemeteries read like an account of the colorful history of Nagasaki.

Gustav Wilckens came to Nagasaki in 1861 and formed a partnership with another American 
in a food importing business. He died in 1869 at the age of 37 and was buried in the 
international cemetery at Goshinji Temple. This is all that is known about him, except for 
the unusual inscription on his gravestone. Carved on the side of the stone, in Japanese, are 
the words "Tamagiku of Tsunokuniya." "Tsunokuniya" is the name of one of the brothel in 
Nagasaki's Maruyama flower quarter. It seems that "Tamagiku" was Wilckens' sweetheart 
and that she paid for the gravestone as a tribute to him. 
 
Robert Foad and John Hutchings were both 23 year-old crew members of the British 
warship "lcarus." On August 5, 1867, they went with their friends into the Maruyama flower 
quarter. They drank too much and fell unconscious on the street. Hours later, they were 
found lying dead in a pool of blood. The cuts on their bodies had obviously been made by 
Japanese swords. The British consul in Nagasaki blamed the Tokugawa Bakufu for its failure 
to ensure the safety of foreigners. He also demanded the immediate arrest of the 
criminals. The consul believed that the "Kaientai" led by Sakamoto Ryoma was 
responsible. But the investigation dragged on, severely straining Anglo-Japanese relations.  
One year later, the Tosa samurai cleared their name by revealing the fact that the killer 
had been a samurai of the Chikuzen Clan of modern-day Fukuoka Prefecture and that he 
had committed suicide by seppuku shortly after the crime. The lord of Chikuzen paid 
reparations to the sailors' families in England, but it was already too late for the Tokugawa 
Bakufu. The incident weakened British trust and revealed the Bakufu's lack of control over 
its domains in Kyushu. In that way, it played a role in the Meiji Restoration of the following 
year. Foad and Hutchings did not know as they departed their ship that they were going to 
change Japanese history.

Rebecca Wetherell did not expect to stay long either. She was the young wife of British sea 
captain R.H. Wetherell. She joined her husband on a routine trip to Nagasaki from Shanghai 
in 1891. The ship was a sailing vessel called the Cape City. It had orders to remove the 
200 tons of ballast from the hold and to take on a cargo of Nagasaki coal. Wetherell 
ordered the ballast removed by local workers. But before the cargo of coal arrived, a 
strong gust of wind made the ship lean over, and within a few minutes it sank in full public 
view. One of the witnesses was a British woman who watched the accident from the 
window of her house with a pair of opera glasses. Everyone on the ship was tossed into the 
water. Some swam to the shore; others held onto floating debris while rescue boats rushed 
to the scene. But Rebecca was missing. After a desperate search, her corpse was found in 
the sunken wreckage. 

The death of his wife and the loss of his ship was a great shock to R.H. Wetherell. An 
inquiry into the causes of the accident was held at the British Consulate in Nagasaki. The 
consul charged Wetherell with negligence for leaving the ship without ballast and revoked his 
captain's license. Wetherell soon left Nagasaki and no one remembers him here today, but it 
is certain that the unfortunate captain never forgot his tragic visit to Nagasaki.  
 
About two meters from Rebecca's gravestone is a cemetery section containing the graves 
of some 30 Jewish people who died in Nagasaki. One belongs to Signund Lessner, a 
merchant of Austrian nationality who ran a successful shop selling imported goods. In 1895, 
he also assisted in the foundation of the first synagogue in Japan. Lessner was one of the 
most respected foreign residents of Nagasaki, but the outbreak of World War I and his 
Austrian passport caused an unexpected upheaval. Complying with government orders, 
Lessner and other citizens of countries at war with Japan closed their businesses. He 
reopened his store in 1919, but he died the following year at the age of 61. His wife Sophie 
left Nagasaki shortly thereafter. All of the other Jewish residents left Nagasaki before 
World War II. The synagogue in Umegasaki-machi was used as a warehouse for some years 
but was eventually torn down. Now, the gravestones at Sakamoto International Cemetery 
are the only reminders of the former Jewish community of Nagasaki. 

   
Sigmund Lessner's grave at Sakamoto International Cemetery and
the former Beth Israel Synagogue in Umegasaki (building with ornate eaves).


There are many sad stories in the international cemeteries of Nagasaki. It is particularly 
heart-wrenching to see the inscriptions on the gravestones of children who died in Nagasaki 
and were left behind by their parents many years ago. Jean Neeson was only two years old 
when he sailed from Shanghai with his family in 1906. The family came to enjoy a summer 
holiday in the mountain resort of Unzen. But tragedy awaited. Jean died of a sudden 
illness. His grief-stricken parents buried him at Sakamoto International Cemetery. A short 
poem, now almost completely hidden by moss, is inscribed below his name on the tiny 
gravestone:

Father, Mother, God loving me 
Guard me while I sleep 
Guide my little feet up to thee

Victor Pignatel was a native of Lyon, France. He came to Nagasaki at the age of 17 to join 
his father's import and export company. He took the company over when his father died in 
1870. He even served as acting French consul for several years. But later he abandoned 
his business and cut off all his social contacts. During the last years of his life, he became a 
kind of celebrity by walking around downtown Nagasaki in a woman's kimono. Children 
teased him with shouts of sely banzo ("Western bum" in Nagasaki dialect). Only after his 
death in 1922 did the reason for his odd behavior come to light. As a young man, Pignatel 
had fallen in love with a geisha named Masaki. He asked her to marry him, and she joined 
him in his house at No.5 Dejima. But Masaki died of pneumonia a few years later. The 
Frenchman was so heartbroken that he became insane. He was found dead in his house.  
He was Iying with his head on the nurimono pillow Masaki had used before her death some 
40 years earlier. 

The most famous person buried in Nagasaki's international cemeteries is undoubtedly 
Scottish merchant Thomas B. Glover. Glover came to Japan in 1859 and lived here for 
more than 50 years. He made contributions to this country as it grew into an industrial and 
military giant. His achievements include the construction of Japan's first modern coal mine, 
slip dock, railroad and telephone line, and the introduction of everything from Japan's first 
warships to equipment for the mint that produced the first yen. He was also one of the 
founders of the Japan Brewery Co., predecessor of Kirin Beer Co. The kirin on the Kirin 
Beer label wears a bushy mustache that is said to have been included as a tribute to the 
Scotsman.  

In the years prior to the Meiji Restoration, Glover helped young samurai rebels to leave 
Japan and to study in Britain. One was Ito Hirobumi, who later became Japan's first prime 
minister. In 1908, Glover was awarded the Second Class Order of the Rising Sun from the 
Japanese government. He died in 1911 at the age of 73, a legend in his time. 

Thomas Glover is famous in Japan. But few historians have written about Kuraba 
Tomisaburo, the son of Thomas Glover and a Japanese woman. Tomisaburo was born in 
1870. He studied at Chinzei Gakuin in Nagasaki and Gakushuin in Tokyo. In 1888, he 
traveled to the United States to study at Ohio Wesleyan University and the University of 
Pennsylvania. When he came back to Japan in 1892, he joined the British trading company 
Holme, Ringer & Co. in Nagasaki. After that he served as a bridge between the Japanese 
and foreign communities and made many important contributions to the local economy. He 
was a man of both Japan and Britain. He spoke both languages fluently, and his warm 
personality made him popular among both Japanese and foreigners. 

World War II, however, ruined his life. The Japanese military regarded him as a potential 
spy. In 1939, he was forced to leave the Glover house because it overlooked the Mitsubishi 
Nagasaki Shipyard. At the time, the battleship Musashi was being built under secrecy at the 
shipyard. The Pacific War began with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This was 
Tomisaburo's worst nightmare. Ironically, it occurred on December 8, his birthday. 
During the war, the kempeitai and tokk police kept a close watch on Tomisaburo and his 
wife Waka. As a result, Tomisaburo could not meet his many Japanese friends or former 
business associates. Waka died in 1943, and Tomisaburo became the last member of the 
Glover family in Japan. On August 8, 1945, an atomic bomb exploded over Nagasaki. On 
August 26, Tomisaburo committed suicide. Why did he take his own life when the war was 
finally over? The American forces would soon be arriving in Nagasaki. Tomisaburo did not 
want to take sides in the conflict by either offering or refusing to cooperate with the 
American forces. He was both British and Japanese, and now he refused to choose one 
over the other. Kuraba Tomisaburo's remains were cremated and buried in the Glover 
family plot at Sakamoto Intemational Cemetery. 


Sakamoto International Cemetery


The Flavor of Old Nagasaki
 
 After World War II, very few of the foreign residents of the former foreign settlement 
returned to Nagasaki. As a result, the unique exotic atmosphere of the city turned into a 
kind of romantic afterglow. Called "ikokujocho" in Japanese, this atmosphere has made 
Nagasaki one of Japan's most popular tourist attractions. But it has steadily faded. Very 
few traditional wooden buildings remain in central Nagasaki. The Jichu Chinese Primary 
School closed several years ago, and now few of the residents of Shinchi Chinatown can 
speak Chinese. In Oura, Higashiyamate and Minamiyamate, the only reminder of the former 
foreign settlement is a few sections of brick wall and stone pavement and a few Western-
style buildings preserved as cultural assets.  

In the international cemeteries, however, the gravestone inscriptions are still clearly legible.  
Only here, perhaps, does the flavor of old Nagasaki remain intact.