Friday, 16 August 2013

Obon: cemetery visits

Mid August is Obon (mid July in Tokyo which for some reason still uses the old calendar), the major grave visiting season, the season when deceased ancestors, relatives, return to earth. This year there were visits to 6 cemeteries... one up on last year, though I couldn't quite work out why a relative who has been dead for several years made it onto the grave visiting list for the first time this year. It's one of those questions that won't come with a satisfactory answer so I didn't ask.
Grave visiting is a whole different kettle of fish compared with grave visits in Australia.  To begin with, there are mandated grave visiting seasons -  Obon in August and O-higan - at the autumn and spring equinox.  Also, visiting graves means taking flowers and food offerings.  It's greedy of me, but I can't help thing "what a waste" to see good peaches etc cut up as offerings for the crows.  In Hiro's part of the world the food offering is an elaborate bento, often a cup of tea or can of coffee, sometimes a small bottle of beer or sake.   Because Confucianism and Buddhism brought patriarchy to Japan, the duties are to look after the grave of the family whose name you bear.  So Hiro's mother's task is to look after Hiro's father's relatives.  It doesn't seem quite reasonable...  The biggest difference, at least in the countryside, is that grave tending is an important task which means there should be a grave tender in close proximity.  It can create a lot of pressure for people not to move away, even if staying means losing education and employment chances.  It's a topic close to home and I'll leave it at that.

Jizo outside the cemetry - I didn't notice last year, but there are only three there -
jizos like this almost always come in sixes. (and the one in the middle looks like it's pretending to be
a jizo.  I asked Hiro's mother why, and why there were three
not six... she thought for a moment..."nandarou" - I wonder why.   And
said perhaps the other 3 hadn't been born yet.  It's answer that could come from
Alice in Wonderland. She was being neither sarcastic nor dismissive....
but it wasn't the answer I was looking for.... Sometimes it feels 
like urbanite with no attunement to natural surrounds meets hunter
gathers with no attunement to consistent, logical explanations....
The jizo  have been given offerings by people visiting graves.

You don't see this decoration in Odate - it seems a tradition of the more remote
mountain parts of  Kita Akita City.
I liked the summer spirit of the cucumber and eggplant offering.
Colourful food offering decorations

Colourful food offering decorations

Hiro's mother brings her own grave washing bucket
and bag of incense and candles
Grave tending duties are a major responsibility for
the wife of the oldest son - traditionally.


Rurousha said...

Much more creativity than I see in Tokyo's graveyards, and I love the cow and the horse. :)

Cecilia said...

I asked Hiro's mother about the decorations - she doesn't do that style - but she wasn't very clear about whether it was a local custom or an old custom that had been abandoned in the centres. I find it bizarre some of questions that don't seem to have answers...

Cecilia said...

Oh horse cow? MIL & Hiro?