First of all, let us extend our condolences on the loss of your mother-in-law.
To answer your questions, as per the dress code…
W.M. points out that it depends upon how old your daughter is. B.K. suggests a black dress, and H.E. suggests a dark colored dress. R.G. adds that she bought my daughters black t-shirts for their step-grandmother’s funeral, they wore them with plain skirts that they already had. I think generally, as long as it’s plain and not too bright and gaudy, anything is okay. J.B. agrees, saying My kids just wore dark coloured clothing to their grandfather’s funeral. As long as your daughter is tidy, it won’t matter.
H.E. notes that it depends upon where in Japan you are, and which religion your family belongs to, as to what will happen during the actual funeral process.
Most likely you’ll begin with a tsuya, otherwise known as a wake. B.K. says everyone comes to pay their respects, light some incense and say goodbye. The tsuya could be held in the funeral parlor or your home. J.F. adds that this time will be more informal than the following day. It is important to note that someone usually stays with the body all night, so if it’s at funeral parlor, your husband may be the one to do that. Maybe it depends on the religion, but the incense is lit with a candle, and the candle has to burn continuously, so the person/people who spend the night make sure the candle doesn’t go out or cause a fire. J.F. isn’t sure if there is another special meaning to staying up all night with the body. Note also that they will sleep in the same room as the body.
H.E. noted that it is not unusual for people to sleep on futon next to the body either at home or the ceremony location. They will also touch the body (stroke the hair, adjust clothes) or even offer food/drink, depending on tradition. And B.K. says that when my grandfather-in-law died last year, my oldest was 3 and she spent the night with my husband, brother-in-law, and grandmother-in-law at the funeral home. It was kind of nice really. I didn’t leave until my daughter went to sleep, and I sat with her by my grandfather-in-law’s head and we sang songs to him and had our own private farewell ceremony. He just looked like he was sleeping. So yes, this tradition may be different than what some of us are used to, but there’s a certain comfort in it as well.
The next day will most likely be the funeral, beginning with ceremonies in the morning to prepare the body. S.J. noted that at her mother-in-law’s funeral, the staff had the immediate family watch the washing and preparation of the body pre-wake. I have been to several funerals/wakes and never experienced this. It was a real shocker! J.F. notes that at the ceremony, you may be called upon to light incense. If they do this you will probably go up with someone, just copy what they do. After the ceremony everyone will probably take the flowers and put it in the casket before it goes to the hearse to the crematorium.
N.K. relates her experience from when her husband’s grandmother died: On the first day/night all close family gathered and someone slept next to the body with the lights on; next morning after the body was washed and prepared, all the people came over to say goodbye, then the body was taken to the hall (all the people were standing outside to send her), in the hall there was Buddhist ceremony, everyone said goodbye with flowers, then the cremating and picking of bones in another hall for the purpose and then another ceremony, lunch. N.B. noted that the cremating and picking of bones was a bit shocking her. C.H. reported that in the funeral she attended, the bone picking was so rushed. They kept sliding the board with the jar on it up so fast, and when they thought we had filled the jar enough they shoved us all out of the room so fast we were all shocked.
What N.K. is describing is the next set of activities during the funeral process. H.E. says that after the cremation, if it happens after the funeral, the remains may be “taken out to dinner (drinking party)” or back to the house to be put on display, along with the big picture, and B.K. adds that she’s not certain, but it may be Japanese tradition that they don’t consider the deceased really gone until they are cremated and freed from their body. Even then the first 49 days after death they spend on a journey before finally resting and their bones are interred. Again, that may depend on religion.
A.K. noted that she just followed along with what everybody else did, and that the funeral home people guided us to what needed to be done step by step at both the wake and the funeral, up till after the cremation. This led into a discussion about funeral homes’ behavior and pricings. M.M.O. asked, If you’re a member of the church, then a pastor usually wouldn’t charge for funerals or weddings (though you would pay the funeral home and for flowers or whatever.) If you aren’t a member, then the preacher would usually charge you something. Do temples here work the same way? None of our mothers answered this directly, though we did get a lot of comments concerning prices and quality of service. A.O. notes that most people don’t/can’t really shop around for funeral homes and the bad ones must know it. Shameful. R.G. points out that you can get them to drop all the religious additions, I have a friend here who did it – they had time though, as she knew her husband was terminal. But a lot of it is just added on extras that they charge an arm and a leg for. You’re actually better off going through a real temple, because old fashioned ones don’t present you with a bill, you give them a ‘gift’, so the temptation to add this and that, then bill you for it, is much lower.
C.H. says she wishes she would have known this, as she honestly felt like they were just trying to get us out the whole time. And the priest who came left his information in the middle of the ceremony so if they wanted any more “stuff” he could get ahold of him easily. The Japanese system might just be worse than the American one.
M.M.O. pointed out on a slightly different topic, but the studied, empathetic but sad faces at the funeral home when my dad died were absolutely hilarious. They’d obviously practiced in the mirror. Many of our mothers reported a cheerful attitude on the part of the staff. A.O. says that the bone picking lady at my grandfather-in-law’s funeral was the same. All cheery and cracking jokes, “This was grandpa’s femur! He must have eaten his little-fish! Pretty good for 103!” I thought she was just a freak (or new and uncomfortable in the job) but maybe they are trained that way?!?
The bottom line here is to be prepared for some cultural differences, try to keep an open mind and go with the flow, and keep close to your family.
Danielle Shibano is the lady behind the scenes. She maintains the site, helps all the wonderful writers with any tech questions they have. She also runs a web design business, UMI DESIGNS.
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