Saturday, April 05, 2008

saying goodbye

Sometimes I think that people know when it is their time to go because they do little things to help the people who are left behind cope with their leaving.

Such is my father-in-law. For the past 3 years he was in and out of the hospital. He had a type of bone marrow disease. When he was diagnosed, they had only given him 5 years.

But on his last day, he took a bath by himself, something that he was not able to do for the past 3 years because of his weak legs. He also talked about getting his hair cut, maybe buying a new pair of glasses.

On that day, he went for his usual blood transfusion treatment and then felt funny so they admitted him.

Most of the time my father-in-law was sick, we didn't know about the many times that he was admitted to the hospital, because my mother-in-law didn't want us to worry.

On Saturday, we happened to be travelling when Satoshi's dad passed. We were near Mt. Fuji in an area called Lake Yamanaka.

If you know about Mt. Fuji, you know that the weather changes very quickly and to be able to see the mountain clearly, you kind of have to be lucky.

On the day that my father-in-law passed away, the conditions for viewing Mt. Fuji were perfect and clear. To see Mt. Fuji that clear was really jaw dropping.

As we walked to the bus stop, Satoshi checked his cell phone to find out the bad news.

We walked as fast as we could to catch the bus back to Gotemba. A place we had been when we climbed Mt. Fuji in 2006.

Waiting for transportation when things like this occur is quite unbearable and you kind of feel helpless.

With all the transportation delays, it took us almost the whole day before we reached Kyoto.

In the old days, most Japanese had the wake and funeral in their homes. But since most homes are not big enough today, most Japanese use funeral halls to hold their wakes and funerals.

In the home, the deceased is placed on many futon(comforter) and a white silk cloth is placed over the face.

We took turns keeping a candle and incense lit day and night all the way until the wake and funeral. I think this was to keep the spirit with the family until the ceremonies.

On the day of the wake, the funeral home came to dress my father-in-law in his kimono. Then they brought in the coffin and we all placed some of his belongings in with him to "send him off".

As the coffin was placed into the hearse, the funeral home broke my father-in-law's chawan(rice bowl). This is to symbolize to the deceased that he may no longer receive food at the home.

The hall was decorated with lots of kiku (chrysanthemum), sakura (cherry blossoms) and other flowers. It was really beautiful and really different from what I've experienced in Hawaii. Everyone wore black. I was surprised at how much bowing was involved. The funeral hall representative mentioned that Kyoto is very particular about what is done, so it was exceptionally intense.

During the wake many people came to pay their respects, some from far away areas of Japan. Many were friends or associates of Satoshi or his brother.

Satoshi and his brother spent the night at the funeral hall with their father for the last time.

The next day was the funeral. Again we wore black. Many people came to pay their respects again, most of them were again either friends or associates of Satoshi or his brother.

After the service was over, the funeral hall cut the flower arrangement from the family and everyone in the immediate family was given flowers to put into the casket.

We then all went down to the area where the hearse waited.

Satoshi's brother said a few words and thanked everyone for coming.

The casket was placed into the hearse and we all rode in several taxis to the crematory. The taxis that followed the hearse were not allowed to follow right behind, but had to be at a staggered formation. The driver told us that this was to protect the hearse from being rear ended.

The Kyoto crematory was located at the top of a mountain near Keage. It was a beautiful drive, with the streets lined with cherry blossom trees in full bloom. When we arrived at the crematory, there was actually a line of hearses and taxis there.

The priest said a few prayers and we all prayed. Then they wheeled the casket to the area for cremation. And then my father-in-law was sent to be cremated. It was the first time for me to witness this and a bit too real for me.

After the doors shut, we were escorted to a waiting area. I was quite surprised. There were hundreds of people, all dressed in black. All waiting for their loved ones to be cremated.

While we waited, we all talked chit chat and then we were called to view the ashes.

The funeral home representative explained the different bones that were left and we were all allowed to use a pair of large chopsticks to put part of my father-in-law into an urn. The rest of the bones that were not able to fit into the urn would be buried at a large temple.

We all were escorted back into our taxis and taken down a different route back to the funeral hall. The driver said that this is so that you do not re-visit the sadness.

Once at the funeral hall, we all sat and prayed for the 7-day service. The reason that they perform this service on the day of the funeral is because most people work and cannot make it to the service.

After the 7-day service we all headed to the dining hall and had a nice dinner. It was quite festive and everyone talked about the good memories that they had with my father-in-law.

After everyone went home, we took Satoshi's mom home and watched as all the flower arrangements were put around a tiered table. This tiered table was decorated with melons, candles and incense. The urn was placed in a special "hut" on the top tier. This table with stay up until the 49-day service, when the urn will be placed in a collumbarium or into a grave.

Sorry this was such a long post, I wanted to share with you my first-hand experience. I want to thank everyone for their kind words and prayers. Satoshi, his brother and mother are doing fine. Though my father-in-law was a quiet man, his warm smile will deeply be missed.


Anonymous said...

Hi kat,
Thanks for sharing. Like you mentioned, that is very different from anything I've experienced in Hawaii. I'm glad to hear everyone is doing fine.

P.S. - That is a spectacular photo of Fuji san!

K and S said...

Thank you Lori! I really enjoyed your trip to Japan. Too bad I wasn't in Osaka when you were. Next time you come by, give me a holler!

Take care.

creampuff said...

Wow, Kat. That post is both fascinating and touching. It's fascinating because it's amazing to me how different cultures deal with their loved ones passing on. It was very interesting to read about all the customs. It was also touching because it's obvious how loved your father-in-law was. My condolences to you and Satoshi.

Rowena said...

Kat, I'd like to thank you for sharing such a personal event in your life, but I would also like to thank you tremendously for taking the time to describe a cultural rite that left me with not only newfound knowledge, but humble respect of how funerals are carried out in Japan.

You wrote a beautiful piece. Take care. :-)

Jenny said...

This is a beautiful post Kat, very moving. And yes, that picture of Mount Fuji is amazing! You are so lucky...:)

Anonymous said...

Dear Kat, My heartfelt condolenes to you once again, thank you for sharing such a personal experience with us.

It was very touching to read about the various traditions such as Satoshi and his brother; staying with his dad one last night...and the taking of a differnt path so as not to revisit sadness. How wonderful if that were possible...

Take care and Aloha

Barbara said...

What a lovely funeral. Sad but beautiful Kat.

Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing the experience though - the traditions are very different to what I know and yet are very meaningful.

K and S said...

Thank you Su-lin, Barbara, Shar, Jenny, Rowena and Ivonne. While it was a sad event, it was definitely a learning experience for me, I was happy to share this with you all.

Take care.

KatBouska said...

Wow, it's so interesting to hear about different how different cultures deal with the loss of a loved one. Thank you for posting this!!

K and S said...

Thank you Kathy and thanks for stopping by!

Take care.

2kamuela47 said...

Hey Kat,
So different from a Hawaii funeral but the services were beautiful. Thanks for sharing.
Take care, Laura

Anonymous said...

Hi Kat - The Missus & I extend our most sincere condolences. Thank you for sharing such a warm and touching post.


K and S said...

Thank you Laura, Kirkk and the Missus!

Take care.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you're okay now ^^.
I hope your father-in-law is happier now!!

K and S said...

Thanks Anon! I hope my father-in-law is at peace too!

Take care.

Anonymous said...

My condolences to you, your husband and family. A very beautiful post on the Japanese tradition and ritual. Mahalo.


K and S said...

Thank you Kawena, and thanks for stopping by.

Take care.

Unknown said...

Dear Kat,

Thank you for sharing this deeply touching experience with all of us that read your blog, day after day.

That picture of Fuji-san is so breathtakingly beautiful!

Kat, this was a superb post.



K and S said...

Thank you Mari!

Take care.

Anonymous said...

So sorry to respond so late. My condolences about your father-in-law. May he rest in peace.


K and S said...

Thank you Paz!

Take care.

nordwolke said...

Oh no! I somehow only read about the computer problems in your previous post. I am so embarrassed. I was just happy to see a post from you again ... It is always so sad when someone has to go ... :( I am really bad at finding the right words when someone has passed away. All my best wishes!

K and S said...

No problem, Beadexplorer!

Take care and thank you.

Pandabonium said...

Oh. I guess I messed up or blogger ate my comment some time ago.

I am sorry for your loss. I am old enough that I have lost both of my parents. My mother last fall. Though she lived a full life, as did my dad, I miss them.

Thanks for explaining the way of services in Japan. It was most interesting.

I had a minister at my Hongwanji temple in Hawaii who once asked us "when a person dies, what happens?"
We offered many answers - the deceased is born in the pure land, they are reborn on earth, they go to heaven, nothing, etc. etc.
Finally he said, "no. What happens is, we hold a funeral". Funerals and memorial services are for the living. The Buddha takes care of those who have passed, so that is not really a concern. It is the living who need to remember and appreciate the life of their lost loved one, and the memorial services and traditions help us to do that. That was a valuable lesson for me.

Best to you and Satoshi and family.

K and S said...

That is a very nice lesson, PB, thank you for sharing it and for your condolences.

Take care.