October 25, 2009

True to my word.

Hello. Long time since I been around these parts, hmmm.
I haven't been fucking around and ignoring my responsibilities as one of the bloggeratti. I have been up to things that are way more serious than talking about the merits of bolongna over sardines in a sandwich.

I can safely say that this has been one of the busiest months in my life. There have been a multitude of obsacles and events to overcome and attend to and although I haven't cleared the board of all my responsibilities, I have made them a lot more manegable.

I had to attend a funeral. I have to give a talk. University Curriculum updated and the start of classes yadda yadda yadda...

I am more than just a little bit curious about the way different cultures handle the passing of loved ones and relatives. America has it's own ceremonies and customs, but what I experienced earlier this month made the little hamsters powering my brain go haywire.

I know that I outght to enlighten you on the mysterious differences between life here in Japan and way the hell over the water back in America, sohere's one more thing you might find interesting.

The Japanese funeral, while basically the same as any other funeral I've attended- the robes of the clergy and the chanting and incantations differ in style, but not content and meaning- has one major difference. It is a participatory ceremony. In the states, everything that has to do with the care of the deceased is handled by professionals and in japan it is much the same except for one stage of the process.

In Japan those who mourn the passing assist in the cremation and entombment of their loved ones. This was a bit unusual for me; as you might have already suspected.

The casket is removed from the hearse by six pallbearers and placed on a pallet inside the creamatorium. Remove all the dark and sinister images from you heads, my brothers and sisters. The buildings look much the same as a modern church in any middle class neihborhood. The priest (Buddist) does his thing and afterwards, the pallet is loaded into the oven. After about 45 minutes (everytime I remember this part of the day I imagine the sound of a little bell, like those old kitchen timers calling me 'cuz the turkey is cooked) The pallet is removed (and here is where things get odd) with the remains of the body. You see, Not all of the body is turned to ash. The skull and many of the larger bones partially remain and the mourners take turns removing the bones and by passing them to each other with special bamboo chopsticks; placing them in a box. Once the bones have been collected the rest of the ashes are swept up and put in the box as well. Then we all jump in a bus and head over to the cemetary and stand around while the priests place the bones into the family crypt. Light a joss stick for respect and head back for more ceremonies.

I didn't know the woman well. I had only met her once. She was my wife's great aunt. I didn't have anything to do with the way she lived, but I helped her on her way afterwards. I guess that's what it's all about. We need someone(s help to come into the world and we need other to help us leave it.

I'm gonna get back to business and I promise, scout's honor (yeah, I was a scout) that I will be visiting you. I need the break from life you folks provide. For now though I'm gointa dist off my guitar. You people aren't the only thing I've been neglecting.



Grant said...

Be grateful you weren't required to help burn the body. Just think if you attended and didn't know you were supposed to bring lighter fluid. What a social faux pas! Then you would have had to quietly kill one of the other guests and take their lighter fluid, then you'd have to attend their funeral and the whole thing would never end.

lime said...

wow, that really is interesting. i think your observation about us needing help entering this world and balancing that by helping us on our way out makes a lot of sense. i think there is something to be said for the concreteness of handling the remains to. if that doesn't give closure i don't know what would. is this something only adults do or are teens/older children also included in the handling of the remains?

dianne said...

Nice to see you back again, if only for a brief visit.

That is very interesting, with cremations here of course there is first the funeral,with friends and family gathering to pay respect to the deceased and to say goodbye.
The deceased then goes to the crematorium and you are notified to collect the ashes after about two weeks...very sanitised.
Then there is usually a small ceremony with family when the ashes are placed in their final resting place and time for a final goodbye.
The Buddhist way is much more personal, as you have said we need help coming into this world and we need help to leave.
My Dad passed away in March this year and it was terrible watching him go through the last hours of life, holding him in my arms and trying to comfort him, it wasn't peaceful for him until the very end,the whole thing seemed surreal.
I saw him in the morgue the next morning that and spending his final hours with him was enough closure for me. I was devastated so I don't think I would be able to participate in handling his skull and larger bones after the cremation but I do praise those who could with a family member.

Megan said...

I could not handle that.

Beth said...

Okay, I guess a funeral and all that other stuff going on in your life are acceptable explanations for your absence. Just barely.
Welcome back, stranger.

Serena said...

Oh, wow, that is a very different ritual. I'm with Meg -- I don't think I could handle it, either. Meanwhile, it's good to see you around again. Take some time for yourself. Always!

Kurt said...

I once wandered into a village in Mexico and was asked to carry the coffin of an infant to the church and then, after, to the graveyard, as all the men present were too drunk to do it.

Mayden' s Voyage said...

I like what Lime said...and I feel pretty sure I could assist with the process if it was anyone other than one of my children.
I'm very upset about the way funerals are handled in the US and the terrible expense of it all. The process should be simple and affordable, and it can be- if we prepare ahead of time.
I plan to be creamated. I'm sure there are days when some members of my family would love to push me into a hot fire! (kidding :)
However, ultimately, I hope someone who loves me is there when I actually die. I realize death is something each of us have to face and cross into alone- but just as with birth- I think we find someone waiting on the other side to help us along.

Welcome back :)

Mona said...

Only yesterday one colleague of mine was telling us about the last rites of some place where they cut away the legs of the dead one & bury the rest of the body & then cook & eat up the legs of the family member!

puerileuwaite said...

Geez. I was afraid of that. You are turning into the Yakov Smirnoff of Japan.

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NYD said...

I guess my readership is still expanding....

The Mighty Beluga said...

Hey! Great to see you back, I think we might be back as well...something about autumn just puts me in a more blogging sort of mood. Different cultures...so strange, I'm learning more every day

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X. Dell said...

Wow, that is indeed a bit more participatory than what I'm used to. I'm hoping you didn't find the experience terribly traumatic, although I could definitely see how a tradition like this could have developed.

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Jollytommy said...

I just watch a movie about Japanese funerals last week called Okuribito

It was basically about a man that takes on the job of running the ceremony and dressing.

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Interesting about the participation. I think it helps the mourners to be a part of things. If you participate, it makes it more real and rituals help us all to mark the passages.

I'm not sure I could personally do the chopsticks but I appreciate the idea behind it.


Aunty Belle said...

seems pretty quiet over heah...you OK?

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czar said...

Well, that was rather fascinating.

My father-in-law died a few years back. The way the funeral home was set up, they had the crematorium downstairs. The ovens were in one room. Next to that was a little room with a window into the oven area, and a curtain over the window. My wife and I did not stick around for the actual order of business. Given that there is no real Western ritual for being involved in the cremation of other people, I guess the point of this room was to assuage the fears of those people who think they might be getting someone else's ashes or some other mixture entirely, as has been known to happen. I think of the crematorium operator in North Georgia some years back who had been accepting bodies for cremation, burying them around his property, and giving the families god knows what in place of their loved one's ashes. Yes, that guy was sentenced to decades in jail on a litany of charges you don't typically read in the newspapers.

Anyway, thanks for the education.

Serena said...

Just stopping by to wish you a Merry Christmas and all the very best in the New Year.

Kurt said...

Your OPE subscription has not expired - you're good for 3 or 4 more issues (I forget which right now). Worry not.

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Just checking.

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