Monday, 15 August 2011

Return of the spirits.

This weekend is Obon in Japan: an important festival for all Japanese, when the ancestors return to the living for a typically short Japanese holiday of a few days (then they have to get back to work, doing whatever it is spirits do in a Japanese eternity).

Families go to visit the graves and temple memorial halls with offerings of flowers, snacks, candles and insense sticks. It's a time to remember where you came from.

Luckily not in this house......

I guess in Kawagoe in Saitama that Okaasan's brothers and their wives are visiting graves and temples, but with no family connections here in Sapporo Okaasan and Yujiro have to do nothing.

I did mention to Yujiro that maybe we should get Okaasan to telephone one of the brothers and make a family connection at this special time...but he didn't seem very interested...and I doubt they will bother to call her. Or that Useless Elder Brother will call his mother.

Odori Park, Sapporo has BBQ and beer gardens under the TV Tower.

Lucky all of this. We can spend a holiday weekend doing what we like. He and I had a date out on Saturday night, and we've watched videos, and I've seen friends who are visiting the city.

The beer garden has one more day to go...and in Odori Park there are preparations for public Bon Dancing, the final end-of-summer event before we get into autumn.

But, this Obon made me think about how we Westerners deal with death and remembrance, cos I've had a lot of that in the past 2 years.

I did some research for classes and discovered, a little to my surprise, that 75% of funerals in the Uk now are cremations and in 60% of those...the family take away the ashes for private scattering, or interrments in gardens or Memorial Gardens...or football grounds. Even the famous Kew Gardens near London offer a scattering service to the family's of garden lovers!

Having a family grave is just slowly slipping out of fashion in the UK. For cost, space and hassle reasons.

I had 4 parents - real and step. All of them were cremated and scattered in private gardens near their homes. But houses that are sold on and don't remain in the family for years to come.

Step-aunt and I glumly about to scatter my step-mum's ashes last autumn.

And then I tried to recall where and how my grandparents were....Dad's parents died when I was a child and teenager. Mum's mum died when I was in my 20s, her Dad died about 2 months before her. 
And where are they?
I don't actually know! All cremated and scattered I think, in crematorium gardens.
Are there plaques or stones in a wall or garden of remembrance?
I don't actually know. 
I have no memory at all of either Mum or Dad going to Visit a Grave and Lay Flowers in Memory.

Is my family strange in this? I don't think so. Not in the Uk really. In the US/Canada/Australia there is more space for graves maybe, so those scenes you see in Hollywood movies of families visiting a big grassy area and a headstone are still happening...but I don't think so in the UK. Not so much anymore.

We cremate, scatter...and then remember only in our hearts.

When Okaasan dies....I am guessing Yujiro and his brother will be obliged to return her ashes to a temple in Kawagoe in Saitama (because the brothers may still be alive)...and then they will have to pay the temple to say prayers for a few years.

Us? He's already told me that he'd like his ashes scattered in the Klein Matterhorn mountain in Switzerland, so he can look at the Matterhorn for eternity..and I'd like to be scattered in any garden I am tending at the time when I  die...or failing that...a river near my Dad's old house...or a mountain.


  1. that is interesting!

    i have no idea what my parents want. my dad was in the navy and we moved a lot until he retired in 1991. they don't live anywhere near any of their family. my grandmother is still alive (she'll be 91 this year, i think) and her last husband (she's a widow; i'm talking about a step-grandpa here) had a funeral parlor so i imagine he's buried somewhere. not sure what the plan is for grandma. she was married three times but i think if she's buried it'll be next to her third husband. or not, it wasn't his first marriage, either, but i don't know if he was a widower or divorced.

    my grandfather (dad's dad) died when i was a teenager. my dad had him cremated and scattered his ashes somewhere (out to sea, maybe, my grandfather was also in the navy and also was a boat captain after that. i know he was eligible to be buried at arlington cemetery, but maybe my dad didn't want to go through the hassle.)

    hm, i've written a blog post here in your comments! sorry! i have no idea what will happen to me at the end. since i'll be dead, i don't think i really care, to be honest. as long as those who are still around have closure, that should be enough for me!

  2. I think in Aus it's pretty normal to have a grave. My grandparents, and great grandparents all have graves and every mums day/dads day/birthday/anniversary we are all obliged to trek up to the cemetary and visit graves...and funnily enough we all know where they are located, I guess it's just my families tradition. The only person in my family to be cremated is my grandpa on my mum's side and my doggie (who sits on my shelf). I will break with tradition as I would prefer to be cremated, and I think hubby does too.

  3. I think sea is a good place too.
    Of course the other reason for a decline in Family Grave situation, is that increasingly people live and die in a different place to where their children live...

    But it is odd...that in my family there was nothing about visiting a grave or a memorial stone..they had died...and that is all I know.....grandparents that is.

  4. I've been thinking about this too recently after going to the ceremony for the 7th anniversary of the deaths of my boyfriend's grandparents. At first I could only think that I didn't want to ever be a burden on the family in that way - that they have to spend money and time and effort on ceremonies and cleaning the grave and...

    And then I thought about what happened after my mother died (I was 11). We held the funeral and then she was cremated and I didn't even find out for years where she was scattered, and I thought about how much I would have appreciated having set times (one year later, seven years later, etc) to mourn, to get together with family and talk about her. I would have liked to have had a grave to visit too...

    So I can see the benefits of both ways... but I still think I'd rather be scattered somewhere green with trees and the ocean. The trouble is in Japan when you're cremated there are still bones left, which makes scattering a bit more... complicated...

  5. I'm with Kelly, My rellies are all in the ground in the town they lived in, my mum who died this year even bought and paid for her plot and marker in I'll be toast and don't even want the kids to pick up any ashes (they usually only give you a little bit anyway).
    Hope your thoughts move on to more cheerful things!