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haka maira
People who visit cemeteries as a relaxing hobby
Visiting a cemetery is normally a somber experience, an occasion for paying respects to one's ancestors, mourning the loss of the recently deceased, and remembering the happy times spent with those who have passed away. By tradition, many Japanese visit the graves of their ancestors in the weeks of the spring and autumn equinoxes and on the anniversary of a family member's death.

Graveyards have long been seen as frightening places where the ghosts of the dead are said to prowl. A common test of a person's courage is to make them walk through a cemetery at night. So it may come as a surprise that more and more people these days are visiting graveyards for pleasure. These cemetery visitors are called haka maira ("grave-goers").

Most major cities are home to ancient graveyards where prominent people throughout history have been laid to rest. With their well-tended greenery, moreover, many cemeteries are oases of calm amid otherwise congested and heavily developed cities. Cemeteries are also usually closed to traffic, making them ideal spots to take a stroll or have a jog. What better place could there be to learn about famous historical figures while enjoying some nature and tranquility?

There is even a guidebook for the haka maira, titled Tokyo, Kamakura: Yumeijin Ohaka Osanpo Bukku (A Guide to Walking Around the Graves of Famous People in Tokyo and Kamakura). The guide’s author is Kajipon Marco Zangetsu, who has even made visits to the graves of writer Ernest Hemingway and the artist Rembrandt.