Diana Parsell Writer

Diana Parsell Writer

Diana Parsell Writer

The Eliza Scidmore Society

When I started this blog a year ago, my first post was a photo of Eliza Scidmore’s grave site in Yokohama, sent to me by a Japanese friend. I knew at the time I would have to travel to Japan to do research for my book on Eliza, and to see her grave site.

Today I joined members of the Eliza Scidmore Cherry Blossom Society (Sakura-no-Kai) at an annual memorial service at her grave.

Kaoru Onji places flowers at Eliza Scidmore’s grave in Yokohama. “Eliza Catherine Scidmore” on the tombstone is the name of her mother, first buried at the site. (Photo: Diana Parsell)

Kaoru Onji, a retired professor of organic chemistry, coordinates the activities of the Eliza Scidmore Society. Assisting her is Mina Ozawa, director of the Yamate Museum. This year about three dozen members of the Society and other guests gathered amid fierce winds for the brief ceremony, then enjoyed a buffet luncheon.

The society grew from a group of people who shared an interest in Eliza Scidmore‘s story after her book Jinrikisha Days in Japan was translated into Japanese. In 1987 they visited her grave during cherry-blossom season to pay tribute. The ritual has continued. Today the group has about 50 members.

The cherry tree overhanging Eliza’s grave site is a scion of one of the first trees sent to Washington. (Photo: Diana Parsell)

In 1991 the group planted next to the grave a flowering cherry descended from one of the 3,000 trees Japan gave to Washington a century ago. Because the blooming season came two weeks earlier than expected this year, “Eliza’s tree” had already peaked at the time of the memorial service.

Fortunately, I visited the cemetery soon after I arrived in Yokohama so I got to see the handsome tree in its glory. Its very large canopy overhangs the grave, so it’s nice to think that the petals fall on Eliza’s place of rest.

The tombstone, flat and rectangular with a peaked “roof,” was originally installed for Eliza’s mother, who lived in Yokohama and died in 1916. Her name, Eliza Catherine Scidmore, is most prominent. The remains of Eliza’s brother George, who was the consul-general of Yokohama for many years, were added after his death in 1922. Eliza was living in Geneva, Switzerland, at her death in 1928 and had left instructions that she wanted no memorial. But friends in Geneva arranged a small service, and her ashes were carried to Yokohama for deposit at the cemetery.

George’s name is inscribed below that of his mother, on the lower front face of the tombstone. Eliza’s name is on a side panel. A small plaque next to it says: “A woman who loved cherry blossoms rests here in peace.”

The cemetery, officially called Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery, is on a hill overlooking the harbor. The neighborhood — once called the Bluff and today Yamate — was favored by foreign residents.

The cemetery has about 4,200 graves, many dating from Yokohama’s early growth as a major port city. As Japan underwent rapid modernization in the Meiji era, the government hired several thousand foreigners as teachers and technical advisers. Some stayed permanently in Japan and are buried here. Others include sailors, missionaries, businessmen and many victims of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that leveled much of Yokohama.

The Eliza Scidimore Society also installed an informational panel about Eliza at the foot of the hill. Next to it is another cherry tree, a third-generation descendent of one of the first cherry trees in Washington.

Eliza Scidmore plaque at an intersection in the Motomachi area of Yokohama (Photo: Diana Parsell)


  1. Andrea Zimmerman on April 12, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    So interesting! Thanks for sharing.

  2. ANNE ALLAN on February 8, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    My daughter has a copy of “As the Hague Ordains” published by H. Holt in 1899. We can’t find this particular edition at any bookseller online.
    Do you have any info about this book?

    • Diana on February 11, 2014 at 12:25 am

      Anne. This publication date doesn’t sound right, as the book “As the Hague Ordains” was published in 1907. It was based on Eliza Scidmore’s experience in Japan during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-5, so an earlier publication date doesn’t seem possible.

      • ANNE ALLAN on February 11, 2014 at 8:17 pm

        I agree that it doesn’t “seem” possible. Yet, the book my daughter has shows an 1899 publication date. It has no sub-title like the 1907 edition and no author’s name. Contents, however, are exactly the same as the 1907 edition. It is a real puzzle to us.

        • ANNE ALLAN on February 11, 2014 at 8:43 pm

          After posting above, I examined the book my daughter has. I think the 1899 date refers to the Hague Convention date, not the publication date. It appears to have no publication date, which seems very strange. It also has no info re “first edition”, “nth printing” or anything else. I wonder if maybe a few pages before the Table of Contents are missing. It looks like a very old book. Anyway, thank you for your reply to my first post.

          • Diana on February 12, 2014 at 10:23 pm

            Ann. I checked my copy, and I think your guess is right, that some early pages are missing. I’m seeing a page that says in tiny print “The Hague 1899” and gives “customs of war” statement, which of course is the subject of the book. Interestingly, my edition is from 1914, when the copyright was transferred to The Century Co. Instead of being anonymous, as in the 1907 edition, Eliza Scidmore is identified as the author, and she even includes a preface describing how she came to write the book.

  3. Hiromichi Kurata on April 9, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Dear Diana,

    I am introduced your name and your project about Eliza Scidmore by Ms.Onji of Eliza Scidmore Cherry Blossom Society (Sakura-no-Kai). I attended annual memorial service at her grave on last Saturday (April 5th). I have reached to your homepage and blog now. It is mauch delighted to know that someone is working on Eliza Scidmore this level of intensiveness! I am very much interested to know when upcoming publishment of the biography is expected.

    Eliza’s love and enthusiasm about Sakura is amazing. Indeed she deserves more praise and spotlighted attention from more people. I wish your current work about her biography contributes the purpose and I believe that will happen for sure.


    from one of Sakura freak (almost obsessed!) person in Japan

    April 9, 2014

    Hiromichi Kurata
    Suzuka, Mie Japan

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