Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mission (im)possible

Tetsu and I were introduced to each other 35 years ago by Tetsu's best friend, Hajime. Hajime had married a girl from Venezuela (they later divorced) and for the first few months we double dated. I spoke to Hajime's wife in English, Hajime and his wife spoke to each other in Spanish, and Tetsu and Hajime-san spoke in Japanese. We have good memories of those days.

A few years ago at age 53, Hajime passed away and the fraility of life really struck Tetsu. Although we went to a memorial service for Hajime in Morika where we all had originally met, there was a delay about a grave site and where the ashes were to be interred. Hajime's mother now lived alone in the city. Hajime's second wife lived overseas... Last year when Tetsu and I visited Morioka, one of the things he wanted to do was visit Hajime's grave but when Tetsu called Hajime's mother, she told us that the grave was somewhere in another prefecture near Tokyo.

Then around New Years, Hajime's mother sent Tetsu a letter with directions to the cemetery and the family grave... and Tetsu's been talking about making the trek to visit the grave.

This is when I think my husband is VERY Japanese. I'm afraid I'm not a big fan of grave visiting but it seemed important to him... Okay, let's make a day of it.

We drove to the prefecture closer to Tokyo, yesterday morning. We were invited to caravan with our friends the Sugas, to Costco and we bought coffee and nuts and sweet rolls etc. From Costco Tetsu and I said goodbye to the Sugas, set up our GPS and headed for the cemetery around 2:30.

Well, what looks like close on the map is FAR in the car and besides we were driving through a lot more metropolis than we see in Nikko. The day had started windy and turned stormy with rain coming down in sheets. Two hours later, just when the rain was letting up, we arrived at the cemetery.

No one was there and Tetsu reported that he didn't have the foggiest ideas of where Hajime's grave might be.

"I thought there would be a caretaker or a directory or something."

Instead, there was only a grey sky with clouds billowing across it and the wind howling through the high tension wires overhead.

"Tetsu, this isn't a little cemetery. Are you suggesting we wander down the rows and LOOK for the gravestone?"

Yes, he was...

So Tetsu took one side and I took the other.

"By the way, I'm not sure if it is a family grave or maybe Hajime's second wife's family grave. In which case it might not be marked with Hajime's last name."

This is worse than looking for a needle in a haystack! Okay, so now you want me to look BEHIND the gravestones for a small engraved name. And to make it more challenging, the name might have a special Buddhist name in front of it... And you expect ME, with limited Japanese reading ability to help you on this quest?

After about 20 minutes of wandering, when passing Tetsu in one of the rows I expressed the opinion that we needed help.

"Don't you know his mother's telephone number? Can't you call and ask her WHERE the grave is?"

"Oh... yeah, maybe I have her number in my cell phone."

So Tetsu called Hajime's mother in Morioka. And she was OVERJOYED TO TEARS that Tetsu was making the effort to find Hajime's grave. Tetsu reported back to me that the stone was tall, and black, and had the family name on it (well that's a relief) and was to the left of a water faucet area.

"But whether she means left of the water faucet near the entrance or left of the water faucet near the parking lot... she wasn't sure. She's 88 you know."

So Tetsu and I kept on looking.

In some ways it was a little eerie wandering around basically alone in a deserted cemetery as the wind howled and evening began to fall... But I was on a mission! A few times when Tetsu crossed my path he asked if I wasn't too cold and if I wanted to give up. Not until it gets too dark to look! We'd come all this way, I couldn't see that we would ever be in this area ever again. It was now or never!

It was after 6:00 when I stumbled upon the gravestone.


Tetsu was thrilled and immediately called Hajime's mother back to let her know we'd been able to visit the grave after all. More tears on Hajime's mother's part and a sense of fulfillment for me!

"Great job, Tanya! I was so worried that I'd have to tell her we couldn't locate it."

I came home really energized from completing our mission successfully.

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