Japanese tombstone’shape. What is the difference between sharp top and flat top?

Hello. Please call me kay.

japanese cemetery. various forms of the tombstone.

In Japan, there sometimes is a cemetery adjacent to the site of the temple.

There also be a cemetery next to the building in my temple.

Observe the cemetery and there are various forms of the tombstone.

Japanese tombstone has stone stacked in many stages and has a three-dimensional shape.

Of course there are reasons to lay stones, but this time I will explain the shape of the top stone.

Flat, Sharp, Curve, like a roof.

Many people do not know even Japanese, so please refer to it.

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What is the reason for the difference in the shape of the tombstone?

In one word it is “the trend of that period“.

Sharp-pointed grave is a Shinto format. Or the tomb of the war dead.

The top part of the tombstone is called Sao-Ishi”棹石”. Sao-Ishi is a grave mark that carves the name etc.

There are not many sharp tombstones in the general cemetery or the recently created cemetery.

sharp top gravestone

sharp top

This form came to be made from the Meiji era.

Shinto was there from Japan ancient times, but Buddhism had been widely faith.

However, the Edo shogunate was overthrown in 1868, 150 years ago from now, Emperor Meiji became the governor of the country.

When switching from the Edo period to the Meiji era, Shintoism has been promoted in Japanese religion.

From the Meiji era until the end of World War II Japan has been regarded as a country of God. Of course, it is not Christian god, it is about myriads of gods from ancient Japan.

And the Emperor was a living God.

Therefore, those who went to war and died, ther were honored as a loyal man who died for the state.

This sharp form was designed to mourn since the Meiji era.

There are various opinions about the reason of sharp design. There are two main reasons.

  1. It was made into the shape of a shell.
  2. Form that represents the sword of the sacred treasure.

It is very difficult to explain the sword of the sacred treasure, sword is derived from the myth when Japan was created by God.

Reason why the top of the tombstone is flat.

There is no particular reason.

Originally a tombstone is a marker for people left behind to know where the dead are buried.

So the design of the old tomb was as rich as the current era.

For example, it is a grave of the Five-ring.

Five-ring grave. The form of old-fashioned grave.

Five-ring grave. The form of old-fashioned grave.

The photo above is the tomb of my ancestors.

This five stone are said to represent land, water, fire, wind, sky of Buddhist world view.

墓石上部。宝珠の形をしている。There is also a design like the above in a shape similar to the five-ring grave.

It would look like roof.

It is said to represent Buddhist orb.

This orb design is what is decorated on top of the precious buildings, such as bones and Buddha.


Buddhist temples sometimes have orb decorated.

Now it is often a flat tombstone in recent years.

The reason is simple, because in modern times it is possible to cut stone straight.

It is because square shaped one is neat and feels beautiful.

Then, when counting the number of stones that are stacked from the bottom, I think it is about four to five.

This is just a trend of the era, it seems that it is designed to mimic the Five-ring grave which is the design from the old days


Recently the edge is round.

The upper part of the recent tombstone is often corners are rounded.

This is also the reason is simple, water is less likely to stain easily flow, to become easier to clean.

On the other hand, there is also a Kamaboko-type tomb in a form that is decreasing recently.


The top is a Kamaboko type stone. Curved shape.

This is the private impression, such as many in the grave from the Edo period to the early Showa era.

This curve is to be imitating O-Ihai”お位牌”.


O-Ihai shape

As shown in the photo above, the top is slightly curved.

Usually O-Ihai is made for each of our deceased ancestors (parents or grandparents), and his or her posthumous name is inscribed on it. O-Ihai enshrines in the house, not outside.

Recently, this curved type of tombstone is not made. Because it is not a modern trend.

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Finally.The shape of the tombstone is free. And it is a trend.

We go to the graveyard and then to see a wide variety of forms of tombstones.

  • An orderly tomb with quadrangular stones.
  • Tombstone with rounded edge.
  • Tomb that seems to be with a roof.
  • A grave whose top is a curve shape.
  • A grave whose bottom is shaped like a lotus.

There are still more differences that can not be counted.

But there is no clear good reason for these differences.

It has only been imagined in this way for a long time like “In Buddhism style, Shinto style, Christian style it is such a design”, and it does not necessarily have to be that form.

The sharp pointed tombstone that I introduced first is a design to understand immediately the tomb of the war dead. There was almost no point sharp grave in the earlier tombstone.

The shape of the grave is constantly changing due to the culture and customs of the area, or the flow of that period.

So the form of the tombstone is the free.

In recent years also appeared tombstone agnostic to the design of an existing grave.

“Soccer ball/ phone/ bike/ ship/ Shogi/ chess/ tobacco/ guitar” etc.

There are modern-style tombs with motifs of the deceased’s occupation, luxury goods, hobbies and appearances.

This is because it has changed from a family tomb to an individual tomb. It is a monumental tomb only for that person.

Finally, Japan has various types of tombstones.

The difference in shape represents the epidemic of that period. The shape of the tombstone will change more and more in the future.

In addition, it is my estimate of a monk, in Japan the tombstone will continue to decrease steadily.

→Japanese version page”お墓の形。上部が尖った・平らな違いは何?

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