The ‘tombstone village’ built by Korean refugees on a Japanese cemetery was to be a centre for Christianity in the Tokyo district of Kita Ward, where the Church of the Heavenly Rest was to be built.
In a special ceremony on Saturday, the area around the cemetery was given the name ‘Kokushikan-jin-no-mori’ – ‘Tombstone Village – Our Life’ in Japanese.
The name was given to commemorate the 300,000 Korean immigrants who died in Japan during the war.
After the war, the cemetery was divided into two areas in 1951, one for Buddhist monks and the other for Catholics. The cemetery in Kita Ward had become an important site for Korean Christians in Japan.
But during the construction of the Church of the Heavenly Rest, the cemetery was divided again, this time into an area that was left open, called the ‘Tombstone Cemetery’.
On Sunday, Christians from Korea offered a prayer and recited the names of the 600-plus dead.
During the Kita Ward construction, the cemetery was the only area earmarked for a church.
It is thought there were only 2,200 Catholics in Kita Ward at the beginning of the 1990’s, when the church in Asakusa was opened. But by 2000, there were more than 20,000 Catholics in Kita Ward.
In 2002, they became the 5th largest church in Japan, after the Asakusa Church and the Church of the Heavenly Rest.
In October of this year, members of the church celebrated their first mass at the cemetery of ‘Kokushikan’ or ‘Tombstone Village’, which has now been turned into a cathedral by Bishop Gomyo who is in exile in South Korea.
Bishop Gomyo, a priest who came to Japan in the middle 1990’s, was in the prime of his career and was a major figure in the church at that time. His influence reached all the way to South Korea.
His popularity grew when he was abducted by Korean intelligence after he led a procession to Kita Ward, to show support for Japanese Christians.
Korean Christian leader Lee Shin-hyo who had been a prisoner in North Korea, was also held by the Chinese, and later by the Americans, at the time.
Bishop Gomyo was