Sep 3, 2018
Family is important in Japan. Like super important. Some might say it's one of the most important aspects of Japanese culture and lies at the core of the foundation of which the entire country stands upon!! Or something like that…
This was explained to me in school when our teacher described the importance of working together (pronounced “walking together” which caused a great deal of confusion and embarrassment for me later) so that the delicate rice agriculture could be maintained. And so the strong sense of family still resonates to this day, even though most modern families don't even step a foot into a rice field more than a handful of times (maybe on a school trip or something).
With Obon coming soon, it is the time of year when people start thinking about their extended families. And by extended, I mean those who have passed away. It is this aspect of close family, combined with the “religious-but-not-so-much-religious-but-still-somewhat-religious” that lead me to have a peek into the working minds of the people around me. I of course am talking about the “butsudan” and the “haka”.
I don't have much experience with this at all, so I try to be as careful as possible when it comes to things like death and spirituality, because every person is different and I don't want to offend anybody, especially my Japanese family-in-law. (I even feel a bit weird writing this, but oh well)
What I try to do most of the time, is be the second person to greet the family when we visit. That way I can imitate that person and maybe get some of the moves right. Kneel in front. Light the incense, extinguish the candle using your hand (create a strong wind) and not blow at it with your mouth. Ring the bell once. Put your hands together and pray. In your mind, say “Namu Amida Butsu”. Greet the family. Apologize for any misgivings. Give thanks for them looking over you. Bow and scoot away.
Of course, putting items of food in the “butsudan” that the deceased person enjoyed in life is a nice gesture (snacks, beer, chocolate etc), but if you don't have it on hand, a cup of water is also acceptable.
I am of course not a native. I am aware that I am probably doing things completely wrong and in the wrong order. In this case, two wrongs don't make a right...
But, I am trying. I am participating in family traditions with the family that comes packaged with the woman I love.
The family seems to appreciate my efforts. They haven`t given up on me so far.
I see this as an excellent way of reflecting on the past. Giving respect and thanks to the people who made sure we got where we are today makes me feel like the world is an alright place, even when it isn`t.