Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I don't know if I really want to write this post... It is a little gruesome... If you've recently lost a loved one I REALLY think you should skip this post. Please.

The other night Tetsu came home very tired.

"What a day! I've never had an experience like that in my life. I'm exhausted."

Because Tetsu works for a convalescent home he gets involved with a lot of funerals and a lot of the situations that concern the deceased. And the convalescent home is prefecture affiliated which means there are a lot of people there who have limited means or have no family at all. Last week one of the ojiisans (older man) passed away with no family to take care of funeral arrangements etc. So Tetsu was in charge.

Universally throughout Japan cremation is the norm. I would say 99 percent funeral procedures include cremation. And as with funeral services and ceremonies there is also a cremation ceremony. Thankfully I haven't had to attend cremation ceremonies for a long time. Tetsu doubts that I'd be able to bear it. He worries that I will have a mental breakdown if he goes before me just because of cremation ceremonies.

Basically the body is cremated. But while in English we say there are ashes, in Japan these are called bones and the reason why is because THEY ARE BONES! I learned this the first year I lived in Japan when my foreign friend boycotted her Japanese father-in-law's funeral because she found out that she had to pick up his bones with chopsticks. YES! With chopsticks!!!

Anyway, Tetsu said that after the cremation the ojiisan's remains came back in a perfect skeleton!

"Tanya, it was right out of a science lab! The crematory staff was very proud of the fact that it was such a beautiful skeleton. He said they don't see many come out so perfectly."

And before the bone pick-up the staff member explained in detail what each bone was.

Why? For what purpose would there be in knowing which bone was which? But I have had friends tell me that this is regular custom. Staff explains in solemn tones and family peers over the remains nodding their heads and looking interested.

"What if you don't want to know? What if you ask the staff to skip this part?"

"I don't think they'd do that. I think it is all part of the ceremony and besides the staff member gets to show off his superior knowledge and be the star of the show. He plays it up well."

So up until then, the cremation ceremony Tetsu attended was normal. But then he said the staff handed him a small club and asked him to crush the bones so that they would fit in the urn. Usually someone else (staff!) crushes bones before they are returned to the family in the waiting room.

"Because you are assistant manager of a convalescent home, I was instructed to explain things to you in detail and allow you to experience the inner workings of a crematory... For your edification."

"Blankety-blank to edification! This is not something I want to know!!!"

But in a state of stupor Tetsu did as instructed. He said the girl who had cared for the ojiisan at the convalescent home was standing behind him round eyed in horror. And then the two of them were instructed to place bones in the urn.

"With our bare hands?" whispered the girl. She may not last long at the convalescent home...

I don't know what happened to the normally used chopsticks.

Tetsu is seriously considering donating his body to science so that someday I don't have to go through his cremation ceremonies. Bleh.

I'll try to think of something cheerful to post about tomorrow.

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