A Japanese Funeral

Hey there. I have just come home from a funeral – for my boss’ son (See previous post). I wanted to jot down what it was like a) so that I can remember and b) in case other people are curious. IF you didn’t know, I am a Christian and grew up in Los Angeles. So, my funeral experiences are dramatically different than what I experienced here. That is what I would like to share. The day the baby died, we were all told at work. People were crying and my boss was crying. Other than that, the work day was normal. At the end of the day all office staff walked over to the boss’ house. There, we greeted the grandparents. We sat on our knees in one room together huddled around the baby’s body, with the parents (my boss and his wife). There was a small table with burning incense. There were baby’s toys and baby food on the table also. We each took turns bowing to the parents, then clanging a bowl of ashes with a wooden mallet. Then lit an incense and put it in the sand. Then held our hands as if praying. Then bowed again. Everything felt like it was in slow motion. I had never been so close to a dead body and I had never seen a dead baby before. The whole notion of a dead body being in someone’s house in the States is just unheard of. It seemed like we were sitting there staring at the baby, crying, talking for a long time. The parents gawked over the baby’s body. The kissed it, they held its’ cheeks. The mom even talked to it. She said things like, “Look. Jacqueline came to say hi. Remember when we went to dinner with her, Kou-chan?” Eerie. We finally moved to another room and were offered drinks and snacks. Still, everyone moved very slowly. No quick movements. You can’t sit until it’s time, you can’t eat until it’s time. The grandma had to tell us three times to drink our tea. I don’t know what we were waiting for. I was very shaken up. Everyone was. Even the guys. The parents told us cute stories of the baby through their tears. The older son was on the couch sleeping. They said how he doesn’t understand it yet. He is four. They say he thinks the baby is just sleeping. That night we stayed about 2 hours total. We all went home afterward.

Three days later was the funeral. They told me to wear all black; a dress, a jacket, and stockings. I did. I got picked up and when we walked in there was a reception area my co-workers were manning. I handed her the koden. A koden is an obligatory money gift for the deceased person’s family. It helps to cover funeral costs. I think that may be something we no longer do in America. Maybe funerals are cheaper in America. Plus, I know many people set aside funeral funds. These gifts can be anywhere between 50 and 300 bucks. There are a lot of rules when it comes to the envelope and what not. I had to look them up online to be sure.

We had a long time of waiting. The building the funeral was in from the outside looked like any other building. It was about 5 stories. Each story had a different purpose. There was one other funeral going on the same time as ours. After waiting, we entered a medium sized room. Decorated much like a hotel conference room. The casket was surrounded by flowers. There were about 8 or 9 large displays of flowers. These had names on them – either from a family or business. They are expensive. The guests sat facing the casket in chairs. About 50 people were there. Light lullaby music played in the background before it started. Suddenly it started. A lady on the microphone read instructions, and we all put our hands together while a priest walked through the main aisle. He walked to the front and sat in front of the casket among 2 tables. He never faced us. He sang a song, which sounded like a prayer to the “gods” or something. This went on for about 30 minutes. When he finished, every guest took turns walking up to a table with sand and a flame and did the whole bow-sand thing. We sat back down and watched a photo slideshow. Then, they opened the casket. Each guest took turns walking up to the baby. Then, the parents spoke briefly. Then, each guest took turns putting a freshly cut flower into the casket with the baby’s body. Then the parents touched, cried over and kissed the baby. Then we all went downstairs to watch them wheel the casket into the family car.

Then, the closest family members and our office staff went to the cremation center. This was a few miles away. This building was expansive. There were other cremations going on there, too. This was the weirdest part. We went into a small room, where there again was the casket, the sand and the flame. The family and all guests took turns with the bow-sand thing again. Then we each looked down into the casket one more time. The parents gawked over the baby for probably 20 minutes. The mom started becoming hysterical. All the while the older brother was prancing around and goofing off. This moment it got real for everyone. The funeral host opened the door in the back and we could hear a loud noise like an airplane. They wheeled the casket through those doors and we were told to come outside too. Outside was the cremation oven. Surrounding the oven, were a number of elevator doors. The door we were at was numbered three. At this point the mom went crazy. Every was crying. It felt like we were close to death. At that point they put the casket in, and it went through the elevator doors.

Crazy, right? Similar things may happen in other countries but I have never heard of this before. At that point, the family was invited to lunch (at the cremation center no less). Kind of weird…and we were excused. Our boss handed us money for lunch and off we went. We went to a typical restaurant. The conversation was quiet. I think everyone was overwhelmed.

Whewf! What a last couple of days. Very interesting. A lot of thoughts come to mind. For me, seeing the baby’s body was hard. Hearing the parents crying made me sob so hard. All the while, I knew that the truth is – this baby is now healthy and alive in Heaven! He is probably talking, and praising God right now. That is the good news! The sad news is that unless the people who came to the funeral believe that, they will not be able to see him again. Furthermore, I think of all the pain and effort that surrounded the death of this baby and it occurs to me…this baby is just one of millions that die every year through ABORTION. Especially in Japan, abortion is very common. We made a big deal out of his death, but what about the babies that are aborted? Since we never see them, never hold them, it makes it any different?

Food for thought…

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