Friday, October 8, 2010

The Cremation

I went to my first Japanese cremation ceremony on Wednesday. Actually, I've never been to any type of cremation ceremony before. A cremation ceremony is different from an actual funeral. The actual funeral is today.

The man who passed away is the father of one of the teachers at the Junior High. He's actually my favourite teacher outside the English department. He's hilarious. And he speaks English. But only when he feels like. Like one day it was just us two in the staff room and two phone lines rang simultameously and he went down on one knee and shouted, "Claire, help me!"

So I went to the cremation partly because I wanted to see it, and partly because it was HIS dad.

In Japan, most people are either Shinto or Buddhist. But you'd never know which they are until they get married or die, because noone is a devout anything here. And people seem to have no problem with upholding customs from several religions at once.

I'm not sure if what I saw was a Buddhist cremation or Shinto. I want to say Shinto, because the monk was wearing something like what the monks wore at the Shrine we went to at the festival (Buddhists have temples, Shinto has shrines) but maybe the buddhist monks look like that too.

The crematorium was in the middle of nowhere. I got a ride with my Principal. You're supposed to put money in these special envelope things and give it in at the reception. Of course, I didn't have an envelope thing. Nor did I have the $500!!! that the guidebook recommended you give in the event of a parent's death. So I just signed the book at the reception. And they gave me a gift.

The card on the gift.

The "Sincere Message" on the box.

The packages inside.

I'm actually not sure what it is, since I haven't opened it, nor made any attempt to decipher the kanji. (Oh the joys of semi-literacy!)

Then we all stood around in the room with his Dad's altar. I'd been warned by my neighbours that the old cremation ceremonies involve passing the bones that didn't burn between chopsticks. (This is why it's considered rude to pass food between chopsticks. It's part of the funerary rites.) But we didn't do that.

After a while, the funeral director (I assume) told us to get into three lines. When I reached the front, I bowed to the picture of the deceased. Then then I took some makko (ground up incense) between my fingers, raised it to my forehead and sprinkled it in the burning side of the container. Then I bowed again. Then I turned to my left and bowed to the teacher and his family. The teacher stepped forward and told me thank you. And for all my practice, I couldn't get out the Japanese word for condolences. To be fair it's a really long word- goshushosama- and sounds rather like gochisousama which is sort of like, "that food was delicious." I kept thinking I'd say that instead. All the while there was a monk chanting to the right of the altar.

And then, the Principal asked a question and when he got his response we left. I assume there wasn't much more going on and those that hung around were just waiting to talk to the family.

Unfortunately, I couldn't go to the funeral, since I'm at a different school and it just so happens to be the super busy one.

And, on that rather morbid note, I'm headed to Tokyo for the Japan Writers' Conference. I have 10 minutes to read someone else's work tomorrow night. I haven't decided what I'll read yet, but I strongly suspect it's going to be a DUFF/PARANORMALCY/PERSONAL DEMONS mashup. And Sunday and Monday are two glorious days of lectures and workshops. (Monday's a holiday here.) Hanging out with writer people. HAPPY!!! See you guys Tuesday.

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