This may not be an interesting post but I thought I'd show you some of the "presents" we have around the house and once again prove to you that I do not understand Japanese culture.
All of these boxes have come from funerals or memorial services in the past few weeks. My goodness, Tanya must know a lot of people who have died! Well, that's not really true. Tetsu works for a convalescent home and he must go to various funerals during the year. The custom in Japan is when there is a funeral is that all the mourners will arrive with envelopes of money and in return they are given a bag that usually has a small bottle of sake (Japanese alcohol), a box of tea or seaweed and a small packet of salt. The salt is for purification and once arriving home after the service, the packet will be opened and the salt tossed around so that evil spirits won't follow you into the house. (This is my rough critique). The sake must have some purification meaning too and I find it handy to use in my cooking. I don't know why tea and seaweed play an important part of the gift giving.
Here's where I'm going to show my miserly side. Forgive me. When Tetsu brought back his bag of things a couple of weeks ago, I asked him if he was taking it back to the office since the person who had passed on wasn't a personal acquaintance. No. He had enclosed money from himself, not from the convalescent home. I did not say but thought,
"What! You have to give $50 to $100 every time you go to one of the convalescent home funerals? What is this going to do to our budget?"
Actually, this is an old situation and I've learned not to ask. It just makes me grumble. (I remember someone telling me in my early days of marriage that there were some things that it was just better not to ask about. I can think of numerous situations in my marriage that I knew if I delved into it further it could result in a major battle.) I do not need to know how much money Tetsu uses for "funeral expense." Anyway, Tetsu has gone to a couple of funerals this month.
This weekend we were invited to a memorial service for someone who had passed away last December. Of course there had been a funeral then and of course we followed the customs of giving money. I am not grumbling about that! This is the way it is done in Japan and we budget accordingly. For the memorial service the Buddhist priest attends and the altar is displayed much like it had been last year. After all the chanting, the family and friends are invited to a luncheon in honor of the person who has passed on. But of course, invited means that more money is enclosed and more presents are given. I politely bowed out of this service though the family repeatedly asked both Tetsu and me to attend. I really didn't think we could afford both of us going to the luncheon! As it was, Tetsu was checking the Internet about the proper amount of money to enclose for the memorial service and made a decision (we are not family or long time friends, close neighbor friends) about the amount. On top of that Tetsu really didn't really want to go at all. He wouldn't know many of the people attending, a lot of drinking is involved and Tetsu doesn't drink, Tetsu isn't very good at chit-chatting. But of course one of us had to attend and I was adamant that it wasn't going to be me.
To make a long story short Tetsu came back with his bag and was bemoaning the fact that he really should have enclosed more money. It was a very elaborate affair with a huge feast provided and of course a very large box as a gift.
"I shouldn't have been so stingy."
"Tetsu, this is ridiculous! If you don't go you insult the family. If you do go then it's painful on the pocketbook. Realistically, there are other things we need to spend our money on. And besides, if you're going to go at all, you should have gone with a loving heart."
"Then YOU should have gone!"
I think maybe except for the immediate family, a lot of social obligation goes along with this custom. Who except the Buddhist priest and the restaurant won in this situation? The family had to arrange a luncheon and gifts for 30 or more people and according to Tetsu it must have cost a wallop. The people going enclosed very large amounts of money. If any of them are like us, it is not really an amount they can afford. But I suppose the immediate family was happy that so many people attended and remembered the deceased in a rather joyful way instead of with all the tears that were abundant last year.
For the rest of the year you can be sure I'll be pinching pennies! Or pinching yen!