Saturday, January 16, 2010

Japanese cemetery

Shasta asked to see what a Japanese cemetery looked like and since I live across the street from a fairly large cemetery, Choco and I took a short walk over to take some pictures.

Actually in the fields around us there are a lot of small cemeteries that seem to have a few family gravestones but most people have their grave plots at a temple. The cemetery across the street from us isn't affiliated with any particular religion and is privately owned so there is no temple around... Even so I think it is basically a Buddhist cemetery.

In Japan, grave sites are almost always family graves with the ashes of ancestors being entombed and their descendants added as the years go by. The graves open fairly easily and new urns can be interred. You can see where the lack of land space in Japan even is reflected in their cemeteries. Many generations of family in one grave; the grave sites crowded up against each other. In Tokyo I've heard of grave site condominiums all in one tall building with a common prayer room for everyone...

Traditionally Japanese gravestones are tall with the family name carved into it and in front of that is a flat area where grave visitors can step up to pray. Visiting graves is a very important part of Japanese culture and there are regular memorial days at certain months' and years' intervals. Visiting a grave means that the family will lovingly wash the gravestone, arrange flowers and sweets or beverages, pour water over everything and then light incense before praying.

At the entrance to the cemetery across the street there is a fountain area with buckets and ladles available for gravestone cleaning and then pouring of water, and you can see the rags hung out to dry after use.

Sometimes there are statues along side of the graves though I'm not really sure what they represent. The wooden sticks behind the graves have special Buddhist names written on them that the deceased has been awarded after he has passed away. I thought this was an interesting gravestone with both Japanese and English on it. Something about Nirvana..

This grave had only English on the stone and it even has a little color. I have seen a couple of graves with photos of the deceased embedded in the stone too which is a little surprising (the person staring out at you). I guess modern technology has reached almost everywhere.

Many, many of the graves today had cans of beer or sake on them given as offerings to the person who has passed away. Maybe the person really liked to drink? But sake also has a purification meaning so that may be the reason. In some places there were cans and bottles of soda I suppose for children who may be interred there also..

Usually Christian grave sites will not have the incense burning receptacle nor the stand for the wooden name poles. And Christian gravestones tend to be flatter and lay against the ground more. Tetsu and I have our own family grave way up in Northern Japan but we rarely get up to that city so we don't visit that grave often (our first baby's ashes are there). By Japanese standards we are really shirking our pious duties but as Christians I guess we don't put as much importance to the place where loved ones are laid to rest. I did get up to Northern Japan in 2008 so here is a picture of our family stone taken then. The Bible verse engraved in the stone is:

The Lord is my strength and my song and He has become my salvation. Ex. 15:2

Bet you didn't expect that field trip today!

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