After last year's visit to Japan, I really had no idea that we'd be back, in just 15 months.
About a month after we got back, we were on Skype with my Aunt Mizue and cousin Kotoe. Kotoe, out of the blue, said that Oct. 3, 2009, they were going to hold a ceremony for the 13th anniversary of her father's death.
My mother said, "I want to go."
So every so often, I'd check airline ticket prices. Then one night, I found tickets on Delta going for $750. After talking it over with my mother, we decided that we probably wouldn't be able to find prices any lower. So we bought them.
Nancy hadn't been to see our relatives in almost 40 years, and she said she wanted to go.
So we left on Sept. 22 and spent the first week just going around Kashiwa and into Tokyo once to shop in Asakusa.
Before we knew it, it was Oct. 3. And it had rained the night before and when we got up, it was raining.
It took about an hour to get to the cemetery and it rained all the way. When we got to the cemetery, we pulled out our umbrellas and made sure our mother got inside OK.
Kotoe was diagnosed with breast cancer about this time last year. I have to tell you, she is a gorgeous girl with beautiful hair. With radiation and chemotherapy, she lost all of that hair. She'd been wearing a woolen cap ever since her hair fell out. On Oct. 3, she made her "debut" with her new, short 'do. Her hair is much like mine. Straight as a stick. Amazingly, it's growing out wavy.
At the cemetery, there's a deceptively large reception center. I've only been in the outer room. It's a large room with tables and chairs. People can sit and relax, drink a little tea. You can buy flowers, incense and prayer beads. And you can rent a wooden bucket, matching wooden ladle and broom to clean the gravesite.
I'll say gravesite, but it's more of a mini-crypt. Everyone in Japan is cremated and the cremains are placed inside the crypt. This one is the Araya gravesite.
Beyond the big room, there's a big tatami room with low tables. But for the ceremony, the tables were cleared. Zabuton (cushions) were placed on the floor. Chairs for my mother and Uncle Hide were brough out. The obo-san (Buddhist monk) began the ceremony, chanting in some incomprehensible manner. I swear I'd catch maybe every five words. I asked my mother if she understood what he said. She just shrugged, which meant she was as lost as I was.
Men can sit cross-legged on the floor. Women are supposed to sit on their lower legs with their feet tucked behind them. I started that way with the intention of staying in that position. My legs began to ache half-way into the ceremony. I stretched out my leg and almost screamed. I didn't realize my legs had gone to sleep and they were twitching and tingling as blood began to flow.
Nancy was beginning to chuckle. She knew better and was sitting with her legs stretched in front of her.
So the two American women had very bad manners. But, hey, we had an excuse. We're Americans! We're used to sitting in chairs.
Then there's a ritual you have to do. You take this box that had two compartments. There's ground up wood in one side. The other compartment is empty. You take the box from the person next to you. You take a pinch of the wood and put it to your forehead and then discard it into the empty compartment. Then pass the box.
The monk chanted some more and then we went outside.
Did I say it had been raining?
As we walked out, it quit raining and the sun came out. I swear!
We all gathered around the gravesite. The obo-san stood in front of the grave. Then one-by-one, we start that ritual with the wooden box again. But this time, we first walk up to the obo-san, bow to him and then bow to the relatives. Then do the thing with the box. When we're done, we bow again, this time to the grave (ancestors).
It was the first time I'd been to a Buddhist ceremony. It was very different. I never found out what that ritual was all about or what the significance of 13 is. I'll have to ask again.
We walked back to the reception center for lunch. And what a lunch that was. It was deceptive because the portions were small. But there were a lot of portions. For once in my life, I left some food. I just couldn't eat all of it.
Afterward, we went to Funabashi to shop at a seven-story 100-yen store. Right now, 100 yen is a little less than a dollar. Everything in the store is 100 yen. Boy, oh boy, the stuff in that store! I wish everyone could go to that store.
When we got back to Kashiwa, we were tired.
The ceremony, though mostly incomprehensible, was moving. And worth the trip.
My relatives: Fuyuka, Izumi, Aunt Mizue, Hiromi, my mother, Kenichi, Noriko, Uncle Hide, Yuichi, Miho (partially hidden) and Tsuneo.
The first one up was Aunt Mizue, because she is the widow.
Hiromi, the eldest daughter, was next.
Kotoe, the youngest daughter, was next.
My mother. She had brought a dress and low heels for the ceremony, but since we were going to the 100-yen store, she opted for a T-shirt, slacks and comfy shoes.
Like our mother, Nancy had packed a black dress and low heels. But she, too opted for a T-shirt and slacks and low shoes.
I had planned to wear a top and slacks made of that stretchy material that doesn't wrinkle. And that's what I wore. I did wear some black slides with a very low heel that's good for going out to dinner but not for walking around, which we did after the ceremony. My feet were hurting that night.
In front of the gravesite.
The names of everyone interred is engraved on the plaque on the side of the gravesite. The third name from the left is my brother, Ichiro Okamoto, who was born two years after me, and died two weeks after he was born. Isn't it strange? We all have Christian names (Sandra, Nancy, Fred, Dorothy, Patricia), but my parents chose Ichiro for their first son. Go figure.
Our delicious lunch.
Our family eating lunch. Our obo-san ate with us.