Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ashes to Ashes

Seiko was back at school today after her grandmother's funeral. On our way to class, she asked whether most Americans use burial or cremation for their loved ones. I told her that it seems that most people prefer to bury the dead, but that cremation is also an option. Then we had a bit of a communication problem outside of the classroom before walking in as she kept asking me something about "bones" and although I tried to explain embalming, I wasn't answering her question. Finally, as we prepared for our class, she explained that her grandmother was very tiny and her ashes were placed in a small urn. She said they picked out the bones from the ashes and put them in the urn. The most important person at the funeral was given the honor of picking up the top of the skull from the remains. To be honest, I found this all to be sort of strange and looked it up at wikipedia. Apparently during the funeral rites, bones can be picked up and shared by two people with chopsticks. This explains why passing food from chopstick to chopstick is a big no-no as it reminds people of death. (You should also never (emphasize never) put your chopsticks straight into the rice sticking up as this is also a death thing.)

In Okinawa, we have gravesites that are absolutely massive and can be found in the most random places. During festivals, like Obon, families will clean the sites and leave offerings, while having a family picnic. When walking through some of the neighborhoods around my apartment, I sometimes see cans of tea and flowers left at the graves.

The shape of some of these graves are supposed to resemble wombs... returning to the beginning through death. It's interesting and walking among these giant structures is not nearly as creepy as a graveyard in the States.


Carly said...

I find the ashes thing a bit morbid. I don't think I could do that in my grief (or even if I wasn't grieving).

The cemeteries looks very pretty. It is kind of nice that they don't have the stigma that they do here.

Laura said...

In "Assassination Vacation", Sarah Vowell tours all the assassination locations of past presidents. She takes her 3 year old nephew Owen along to a few because he loves going to the "Halloween Parks".

That's how I like to think of them now. Halloween Parks.