I am possessed by a morbid fascination with cemeteries. I`ve pin pointed its genesis to the stories told at my Grandfather`s supper table about the flooding of Elba, a small town in south Alabama. He sat on the roof of his boyhood home and watched coffins bob down the flooded street- many of them containing his relatives. I always hoped the story would end with one of his great uncles, the civil war sheriff, hopping out, pistols primed, pissed and ready to fight. The finale couldn`t have been more disappointing:
A mere phone call- “Dan, we`ve got your Daddy and a cousin down here in Opp. They`ll be here when you can come get`em.”
I`ve been pining for an excuse to dig around a Japanese cemetery for months and Sakura Season-(Cherry Blossom) provided appropriate cover.Cherry blossoms burst forth during the first two weeks in April and if no rain or wind blows them off the tree, they cause a botanical frenzy of viewing parties and outings accompanied by bento boxes and sake. Surprisingly, Aoyama Cemetery, the location of these pictures, is a prime spot for viewing.
Sakura season in the cemetery provides quality time for many Japanese couples looking to rekindle the flame. Little does he know she wants it nice and clean before she tosses him inside when no one is looking.
If ghosts exist, they are everywhere but Japan for the people take special care to make sure anyone intent on sticking to their old stomping grounds moves along. At death, a bowl of rice with a pair of chopsticks stuck upright in the middle is set by the deceased`s head. The chopstick`s placement indicates this is a “to go” lunch and is a friendly reminder to the newly deceased that they are in fact, dead. Because of this practice, placing one`s chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice while dining in restaurant in Japan will cause several reactions- none of them positive. On the pro side of the cultural faux pas equation, it will remind any dead patrons in the area to vacate pronto.
Many Japanese keep small Buddhist shrines in the home. At the time of a person`s death, the shrines are covered with paper. This practice keeps the spirits from returning. Aunt Fumiko-san will probably not make it across the threshold to see the shrine however, because two salt tablets will have been placed on either side of the front doors to bar her comings and goings. I`m guessing that`s why there are rampant salt-licking deer running around Tokyo causing this warning of their presence on a construction site.
This man and his daughter were indiscriminately waving incense at both the permanent and non-permanent residents of the site. Maybe welcoming a new resident.
There is a saying in Japan that Japanese are “Born Shinto, Married Christian, and Buried Buddhist.” Most Japanese are buried Buddhist and cremated. Several tombs have drawers for easy access to ashes as multiple generations are interred in the family plot. Critics complain overly easy. In the past, ashes of famous people have been stolen and held for ransom. Unfortunately, this cemetery did not have any obvious drawers. I wasn`t going to ransom anyone (although it`s a nice retirement back up plan) but I would`ve liked to get a picture. Of the occupants. Just kidding. It was too crowded.
Several of the more elaborate plots had basins of water. My guess is these are for purification.The cat provides an instructional pictorial example.
The round symbol is a family crest. I`ve read that some Japanese tombstones are available with bar codes so visitors can download pictures and anecdotes about the person contained within. This truly appeals to the nosy side of me. Story time in the cemetery. With a cappuccino. Spiteful me would write a new life for myself full of shocking exploits and scandalous pictures for anyone who might stop by for a post- mortem visit.
When a person dies in Japan, a Buddhist monk assigns a new name (called a kaimyo) to the deceased which is then printed on the wooden sticks below. (Called sotoba) The cost of this service can be extremely expensive ranging from $5,000- 15,000. The higher the cost, the
better more ancient the name. Again, assignment of the new name prevents the deceased from returning should the old name be called. The new name is not likely to slip off one`s tongue as they are similar to, “Honorable Wind,” therefore unlikely a family member will accidentally call them back.
It`s a mixed bag here at the Aoyama Cemetery.
What you can`t see are the lines of cars patiently waiting for me to vacate the middle of the road. Unlike the guy on the left, I wanted the exact center.
The red lettering on the side of the tombstone below is for a family member not yet among the departed. Apparently it`s much less expensive to engrave once and repaint the letters black “later.”A girl tree. I mean, there`s a girl by the tree.
Size always matters, neh?
Anybody got a good cemetery story or picture to share?