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Japan’s futuristic resting place for departed (1)

By: Floro Mercene

‘Obon’ is one of the most important Japanese traditions. It is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating one’s ancestors. It is believed that each year during ‘obon’, the ancestors’ spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives. Obon is celebrated around mid-August and is an important family gathering time. Many people return to their hometowns and visit family’s grave together.

A visit starts from cleaning the grave. After washing and purifying your hands, you collect water in a pail and head to the grave. A pail can be rented free of charge from the temple. After joining your hands in prayer, you pour the water onto the tombstone a little bit at a time and carefully wash the tombstone. After cleaning the grave, you offer foods and fruits that the deceased enjoyed when they were alive. Flowers are also always placed at the grave. You quietly join your hands in prayer.

In the past, everyone had one grave each, but space became a problem so family graves that house many family members were established. Traditionally each family would own a plot of land and a stone tomb in a cemetery in an urban area.

As people die, their cremated remains are stored in burial urns and placed inside the family grave. The grave is passed down the generations and the upkeep of these tombstones and yearly maintenance fee are shouldered by living relatives, who will try and pay their respects to the grave as often as they can.

Now, however, there are fewer and fewer children in Japan, changing of lifestyles, more and more people living in the city, some people don’t have anyone to take on the responsibility of caring for their tombstone anymore.

(To be continued)