Tokushima's Hidden Historical Treasure
The Hachisuka Clan Cemetery
Article written for Awa Life, a newsletter aimed at the foreign community in Tokushima, Japan. August 2020. < 600 Words.
Coming from the Midwest United States, I grew up in a vast sea of corn fields, and perhaps this is why I’ve always been fascinated by Tokushima’s mountainous landscape. On weekends I explore the forgotten paths and little-known shrines of Mt. Bizan, and the most intriguing place I’ve come across has been the Hachisuka Clan Cemetery. It’s a place for lovers of both history and nature, and I consider it a hidden gem of Tokushima.
So who were the Hachisukas, and why is their resting place a nationally designated historical site? The Hachisuka Clan served as feudal lords of Tokushima from the 1500s to the late 1800s. In those times, land was always changing hands and being fought over, but the Hachisukas maintained control of Tokushima all the way until the end of the feudal system. Because of their long, uninterrupted reign, the history of the Hachisukas is intertwined with that of our prefecture. The ruins in Tokushima Central Park are remnants of the family castle, and many of the prefecture’s early-blooming cherry blossoms stem from trees specifically bred for the Hachisuka’s garden.
The Hachisuka Clan Cemetery is another piece of the family’s legacy, albeit a lesser-known one. As the name suggests, the location’s biggest draw is its collection of burial sites, and every fork in the path will lead you to another cluster of graves. The oldest tomb dates all the way back to the 8th century, although the most interesting aspect of these headstones isn’t their age; it’s the large, perfectly circular mounds of earth that have been heaped behind them. Burial mounds were common among ancient cultures – the Japanese even laid those of high status to rest in large, keyhole-shaped mounds called Kofun – but the piles of earth at Hachisuka cemetery are of a different variety. They’re tied to the introduction of Confucianism into the clan, as in the 1700s, Lord Shigeyoshi officially disallowed the practice of Buddhism among his family members. This explains why the Hachisukas were laid to rest on the mountainside rather than on temple grounds.
Although the Hachisuka Clan Cemetery holds a certain appeal for history buffs, others may consider touring a graveyard to be a bit morbid. The cemetery offers a wonderful spot to enjoy nature though, and in the spring, the sight of cherry blossoms sprinkling their petals over the headstones is beautifully serene. Photographers will love the wide variety of animals and butterflies that can be spotted along the pathways, and hikers can take advantage of a secluded mountain trail that leads to the top of Mt. Bizan.
For anyone interested in visiting the Hachisuka Clan Cemetery, you’ll find it at 5 Minamisako 4-Bancho in Tokushima City, or you can search まんねんやま on Google Maps. The entrance to the site is a small gravel path tucked away in a residential neighborhood, so be prepared to find parking elsewhere. A visit to the Hachisuka Clan Cemetery is an opportunity to learn about the roots of the prefecture that we call home, and I hope you too will come to consider it one of Tokushima’s hidden treasures.