It’s been a while since I’ve visited a cemetery and Sandakan presented a two-for-one opportunity, Chinese and Japanese cemeteries adjacent to one another in a sprawling valley within walking distance of the Agnes Keith house and the downtown business area
A fairly well-preserved grave marker in the Chinese Cemetery
The Chinese cemetery is vast, largely unkempt, overgrown with weeds, broken memorials, and seemingly neglected though still with signs of current use, such as the melted wax of devotional candles and burnt incense sticks.
The smaller Japanese cemetery is further along in the valley and difficult to distinguish except for a separate portal on a path from the end of the road.
Entrance to the Japanese Cemetery
Historical accounts say that the gravesites there contain the remains of a small Japanese community that inhabited Sandakan in the late 19th century, many of whom reportedly were impoverished women forced or tricked into leaving rural Japan and pressed into prostitution in Sandakan.
One small portion of the Japanese cemetery seemed better cared-for, and I’m assuming it’s where Japanese soldiers who died in Sandakan during WWII are buried in a memorial established in 1989.
I believe is the memorial to Japanese soldiers
The upper reaches of the cemetery were worth the climb if for no other reason than to enjoy excellent views of Sandakan and the Sulu Sea that laps upon its shores.
The only other visitors I saw over the couple of hours I was there was an English-speaking couple on their way in as I was leaving.
Otherwise, the cemeteries were empty of living people.
Grave sites cover the quiet valley walls at the Chinese Cemetery of Sandakan
David Hunter Bishop is a retired journalist from Hawaii who quickly tired of retirement life and hit the road as a solo traveler in August 2016. Since then he's traveled through 16 countries on four continents and is currently enjoying life in Chiang Mai, Thailand. For more about David's journey, see published interviews with Nomadic Matt and Expat Focus, and in A Confluence of Adventure Writers, with Sarawak (Kuching, Malaysia) Tribune writer James Ritchie.
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