Monday, 2 February 2009


Funerals are becoming frequent as I grow old. Today's was a shocker. It was for a thirty four year old mother, breast cancer of course, and so unnecessary. When will cosmetic companies come clean about parabens and cancer? At least there was a church funeral service before the crematorium and a chance to talk to family and find ways to ease our sadness. And the crematorium was silent and dignified, quite different from my father's crematorium funeral. That was awful, a sort of commercial, plastic, crematorium affair, and quite soulless. The officiating priest was Catholic, (my father would have been furious,) and he got all his facts muddled, dropped his notes, which were inadequate any way, and mumbled. There was a queue of funeral parties going in at one end and coffins out at the other, all trying to get more than their fifteen minutes, and all noisily ignoring the service in the chapel as they waited. I really expected the Monty Python crew to come rushing through cracking jokes, it was as bad as that. Not the ending to wish on anyone.

We need an Obon, an annual celebration of our ancestors, like Japan's. Shizuoka's Obon was a real experience as this is a rural area where the Shinto religion is an important part of everyday life. Every house where someone died during the year was visited by the community and a special group of Obon dancers, these are drummers and singers and it's a very old tradition. It was a lovely way to remember the death and see the person honoured. Like a special party, but spiritual not riotous, and people actively remembered the dead person and wished them well.

The songs and the dances are unique to certain areas, Shizuoka had some very special ones only performed there. The music is very old and whilst most unmelodious to the unused, non-Japanese ear, it is traditional Japanese. One of our students was a drummer in an Obon dancers' group and he took a party of professors from the university to one dance session. I was allowed to take part - foreigners are not usually welcomed - because my father had died that year. The group - not knowing our lack of such customs - drummed for him too. It was very satisfying.