The reason for going to Japan just 15 months after my last visit.
My mother and I were on Skype about a month after we got back last year and my cousin Kotoe said, out of the blue, that 2009 would be 13 years since her father died. Her father, I'd venture to say, was my mother's favorite brother. We love all our uncles, but we spent the most time with him. So we probably counted him as our favorite, too.
Kotoe said the ceremony would be Oct. 3. My mother said she wanted to go. We had to figure out when to buy tickets and all that stuff. I kept checking the online outlets until I found some really inexpensive tickets. For $750, we just couldn't keep hoping they'd go down.
So we left on Sept. 22. And on Oct. 3, I attended my first formal Buddhist ceremony. It was at the cemetery where the Araya family is buried. My mother is an Araya, and of course, everyone is cremated, so it's not really a burial place.
Anyway, it was raining all night and that morning. When we got to the cemetery about an hour later, it was still raining.
Ken-chan found a parking spot and we got my mother inside the reception center.
It's kind of a strange thing. There's a big room with tables and chairs and at the back of the room, there's another big room. That room had tatami floors, which meant we had to take off our shoes to go inside the room. The attendants got chairs for my mother and my Uncle Hide. The rest of us sat on the floor on cushions called zabuton. The women are supposed to on their lower legs with their feet tucked behind them.
The obo-san, the Buddhist monk, started the ceremony, talking about my uncle. Then he started chanting. I can usually understand everything that's said, but I truly didn't understand anything he said. Later, I asked my mother if she knew what he was saying, and she just shrugged, which means she didn't either.
I started out with good intentions, thinking if all the other women in our family could sit like that, so could I. But I just couldn't. When I stretched out my legs, they suddenly came to life and it actually hurt as blood started flowing back into my legs! I didn't know my legs had fallen asleep. Nancy was smart, she didn't even try.
So I was not a good Japanese girl. Very bad manners. But, hey, I had an excuse: I'm American!
It rained all during the inside ceremony. But as we walked out for the graveside part of the ceremony, the sun suddenly came out! It was amazing.
After the ceremony, we all went back inside for lunch, which was fabulous. My Aunt Mizue paid for the whole thing. My mother said the lunch was expensive and I could see why. It was delicious. There was a lot of food, too. It didn't look like it was a lot, but I actually left some food. A first for me.
My cousin Kotoe was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year ago. She's gone through chemotherapy and radiation and lost her hair. This girl had the most gorgeous hair. So for almost a year, she wore a woolen cap. She made her "debut" with her new short hair, which is growing back curly. Kotoe's hair was much like mine, but thicker. And straight.
That day was worth the trip.
During the ceremony outside we gathered around the gravesite: My cousins Fuyuka, Izumi, Aunt Mizue, Mariko (Ken-chan's wife), my mother, Ken-chan, Noriko, Uncle Hide, Yuichi, Tsuneo (Miho is behind her father).
This is the young Buddhist monk who conducted the ceremony.
Being the widow, Aunt Mizue was the first up to do the ritual. You bow to the monk and then to everyone there. I still don't understand it, but you take a little bit of the ground up wood between your fingers, put it up to your face, then put it in a bowl.
Hiromi is the elder daughter.
Kotoe is the younger daughter, and showing off her new hairdo.
My mother had planned to wear a black dress with some low heels. But after learning that we would be going to shop at a seven-story 100 yen store, she changed her outfit to a T-shirt and slacks.
Nancy took a black dress and low heels to wear to the ceremony, but she decided that since it was raining, she would wear a T-shirt and slacks, too. I never planned to wear a dress. I took one of those slinky tops and pants that don't wrinkle. I wore some really low heels.
This plaque shows the names of all the people whose ashes are interred. The third name from the left is Ichiro Okamoto, my little brother who lived about two weeks after he was born.
There we are in front of the gravesite, before walking back to the reception center.
Here's a picture of our delicious lunch.
All of us enjoying lunch, even the obo-san (monk).