Grave marker (sotoba)


Grave marker (sotoba)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Humanity


Wooden grave marker, grave tablet.
Sotoba 卒塔婆 , Japanese pronounciation for STUPA.
They are provided by the Buddhist temples who run the funerals.

Usually, the posthumous name is written on a sotoba, a separate wooden board on a stand behind or next to the grave. These sotoba may be erected shortly after death, and new ones may be added at certain memorial services.




A typical Japanese grave is usually a family grave (Japanese: haka) consisting of a stone monument, with a place for flowers, incense, and water in front of the monument and a chamber or crypt underneath for the ashes.

The date of the erection of the grave and the name of the person who purchased it may be engraved on the side of the monument. The names of the deceased are often but not always engraved on the front of the monument. When a married person dies before his or her spouse, the name of the spouse may also be engraved on the stone, with the letters painted red.

After the death and the burial of the spouse the red ink is removed from the stone. This is usually done for financial reasons, as it is cheaper to engrave two names at the same time than to engrave the second name when the second spouse dies. It can also be seen as a sign that a widow is waiting to follow her husband into the grave. However, this practice is less frequent nowadays.

The names of the deceased may also be engraved on the left side, or on a separate stone in front of the grave. Often, the name is also written on a sotoba, a separate wooden board on a stand behind or next to the grave. These sotoba may be erected shortly after death, and new ones may be added at certain memorial services.

Some graves may also have a box for business cards, where friends and relatives visiting the grave can drop their business card, informing the caretakers of the grave of the respects the visitors have paid to the deceased.

Kaimyoo, the new name after death 戒名
Read more here.


In a traditional Japanese grave stone, these five elements are represented as
gorin, the five layers, in the following order:

the earth layer (chirin 地輪), a square
the water layer (suirin 水輪), a spherical shape
the fire layer (karin 水輪), a triangular shape
the wind layer (fuurin 風輪, a half-moon shape
the space layer (kuurin 風輪), gem-shaped

Note that in Buddhism, the METAL layer is replaced by 空, the space.

. The Five Great Elements of the Universe
godai ... 地水火風空の五大.


Mark Schumacher has a bit more on grave markers and other stone structures:
Gorinto (gorintoo 五輪塔) is another version of the Sotoba. In this case, the Sotoba is a symbol for the doctrine of the teachings of the five elements.


Worldwide use

Things found on the way

Yamadera and the Grave Markers
Matsuo Basho

... Basho's famous haiku about the voices of cicadas seeping into the rocks. The haiku poet visited the mountain at the end of a summer day in 1689 and was struck by the quietness and purity. I also see masses of sotoba, grave markers with the posthumous name of the deceased engraved on the wood, many with a prayer wheel attached to the top. There are no graves on the mountain, but as the souls of the dead were believed to gather here, the custom existed (and still exits) to put the sotoba on the mountain. ...

I walk in silence among the countless sotoba, surrounded by the names of the dead, written on wood and carved into the rocks alongside the path. This year's cicada are long dead so I don't hear their piercing song like Basho.

Copyright © 2003-2006 Ad G. Blankestijn, Japan.

Read the full article.


kasumu hi ni furuku mo naranu sotoba kana

not growing older
on a misty day -
grave markers

(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Kobayashi Issa 一茶

hitori nokoshite minna ano yo e

leaving only me
all gone to the next world

Nakamura Sakuo July 2006


tappuri to kasumu to kakurenu sotoba kana

not quite hidden
by the mist...
a grave tablet

... ...

aki kaze ya sotoba fumaete naku karasu

autumn wind--
trampling the grave tablet
a crow caws

Issa, translated by David Lanoue

autumn wind -
a crow craws balancing
on a grave marker
(Tr. Gabi Greve)

shrine ... is usually used for a Shinto Building in Japan.
temple, pagoda, stupa ... are Buddhist buildings.

Here in rural Japan, where each lonely farm house has its own graveyard nearby, we can see them everywhere.
Gabi Greve, July 2006


source : koubou-yuh.com
kanna 鉋 a plane to finish wooden boards. The shavings are usually very thin and each carpenter is proud of the thinness he can produce.

akikaze ni chiru ya sotoba no kanna kuzu

in the autumn wind
they scatter - plane shavings
for a grave marker

This ku has the cut marker YA in the middle of line 2 and continues with the image.
Someone uses a plane to prepare a new grave marker or
the shavings still holding on to the marker on a grave are blown around by a strong autumn wind.

. WKD : Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 in Edo .

. WKD : kanna hajime 鉋始 first use of the plane .
kigo for the New Year


sotoba no futoki bokuji ya natsu tsubaki

large Chinese ink letters
on the grave marker -
summer camellias

(Tr. Gabi Greve)

hanabi koborete sotoba rinritsu suru kuragari 



idakiyuku sotoba ni ko no ka ao-arashi

clutching the grave marker,
I walk through the smell of trees -
storm in the verdur

(Tr. Gabi Greve)
和田祥子 Wada Yooko

Related words

***** Grave (haka) and Haiku




1 comment:

sakuo said...

sotoba no information takusan arigatou gozaimasu.
konda sotoba ya ohaka no Ku gadetara kokohe kakekomi masu.