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Japanese Funeral

Posted on Tuesday May 19, 2009 at 9:29am in ,

It’s been a little over a week since my last post (I’ve been busy!!). Last Monday morning, my host mother’s mom died. They invited me to the funeral. Since I’d never been to a Japanese funeral, I figured it would be a good experience and good for my studies. The first part of a Japanese funeral is the wake…

The wake is where they bring the body to the home and the entire family comes together there to eat dinner and talk to each other. A Buddhist priest came to the home after we were finished with dinner to perform a ceremony on the body. Everyone squeezed into the tight room and sat on mats while the priest recited a forty minute prayer. It had no pauses or anything, it was just a long flowing song. I couldn’t understand it because it was in Sanskrit (but read with Japanese characters, making it even more difficult).

After the ceremony, the wake was over and people went to bed. The next day, we got up early for breakfast together and got ready to go to the actual funeral. The funeral wasn’t held in a church, it was some kind of multi-story building that seemed to be just for funeral ceremonies. We ate lunch there, and then gathered in a large room with a very impressive shrine dedicated to my host mom’s mom. There was a large photo of her surrounded by flowers and lanterns and such. Two Buddhist priests came in and recited a similar chanting together for about an hour. Nozomi-kun made a small speech.

When the funeral process was completed, flowers are put onto the body by the family members (and I put one in, too) and then it’s loaded into a hearse and taken to the crematorium. The family gathers at the crematorium and has drinks together for another hour while waiting for the body to be cremated. When the cremation is done, the family goes to see the body.

The body is wheeled out from the firing chambers and the table is still hot from the flames. All that is left is a skeleton. Each family member picks a bone from the skeleton and puts it into the urn with large chopsticks while the staff gently breaks the bones down with tools to compress them into the small urn. I got to put two bones in myself. After this, the funeral is complete. But, the bones stay in the home for another two weeks before they are sent to the ground.

It was a very interesting experience, and very different from Western funerals. My host family says now all I have to do is attend a Japanese wedding. However, Japanese traditional weddings are gradually becoming more and more rare and are being replaced by Western wedding styles. I don’t like weddings though and have never even seen a Western one so I’d have nothing to compare it to.

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