Welcome to the breathtaking Sayama Forest Chapel.

Shrines and chapels in Japan are often so much more than religious sites; rather, they are places where the living can simultaneously greet the deceased and tend to some much-needed self-introspection. The Sayama Cemetery is an incredible place to visit if you want to understand this concept for yourself. It is no ordinary cemetery- while it is home to many Japanese ancestors, it also recently gained two gorgeous architectural monuments: the Sayama Forest Chapel and the Lakeside Cemetery Community Hall.

Located in a cemetery in Tokorozawa, Saitama, a forty minute train ride from central Tokyo, these structures bolster visitors’ well-being and spiritual confidence. The Forest Chapel was completed in 2014 by architect Hiroshi Nakamura to celebrate the cemetery’s 40th anniversary. Both structures are striking reminders of the myriad ways that the living can pay respect to the deceased.

Rather than dedicate the space as a religious one, these gestures designate the chapel as a place of inner spiritual reflection, no matter the visitor’s belief. Bathed in sunlight and surrounded by a lush forest of deciduous trees, the chapel offers visitors an unforgettable and breathtaking spiritual experience.

Architectural critic Taro Igarashi expounds upon the purpose of the space, explaining that, although “it is a non-religious contemplative space… [it] resembles a contemporary interpretation of a Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine”. The chapel’s deeply triangular form imitates the ancient Japanese Gassho structure, in which two pillars meet to created an inverted V to relieve the roof of heavy snowfall. The etymology of the word ‘Gassho’, in turn, refers to two palms pressed together in prayer.

Moreover, the structure itself is exquisite. The steep triangular roof is clad in 21,000 delicate cast aluminum panels, and supported by more than 250 wooden beams. It is a remarkable feat of architectural engineering.

The roof, as seen from below.



You might just leave feeling as though this voluptuous phenomenological space has elevated the breadth of your soul.

Just next door, you’ll find a lovely community center that seems to float atop a calm lake. Radial wooden beams jut out over the water, while a living tree fills the hollow center of the roof. To my mind’s eye, the roof reminds me of a wide-rimmed rice farmer’s hat and nicely juxtaposes with the water below.

Within the building, a visitor lounge and dining rooms surround a reinforced-concrete circular core. Visitors can sit at the plush booth near the large windows looking out over the water and enjoy the various reflections that flicker upon the water’s surface.

The Sayama Lakeside Community Hall glows with warm light as dusk approaches. It casts a perfect reflect upon the still water below, making it difficult to tell which is the real building.


The interior


This is the same building, viewed from the cemetery in daylight. The roof wraps neatly around an autumnal tree bedecked with thousands of wine-red leaves.


Carefully tended bushes surround each gravestone. Relatives and community members will often visit, leaving fresh flowers, rice cakes, and persimmons in their wake.