VOX POPULI: At Issue—Funerals and Incidentals

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By Jun Kawasaki

A Rafu Shimpo Japanese section column, 8/18/10 addressed a contemporary issue, “How funerals ought to be held (in Japan)” shared by Masami Kojima,  reputed observer, Hiromi Shimada, a religious scholar and Eiji Ogawa, a resident minister of Myoko-ji Temple of Mt. Sumida,  subtitled, “Soshiki Wa Iranai,” (No Need For Funerals), alluding to a general drift of lavish ceremonial traits in Japan, noting average outlay to be over 2,300,000 yen ($27,000 plus).

Recalled is a life style gone by—a semblance of Kyodo-tai, a
“nucleus family” structure—whereby a simple wake at home was held sipping hiya-zake, (cold sake) wit just close neighbors. In the passing of time, a Kyodo-tai turnabout saw co-op lifestyle go by the wayside with annexing surge of funeral expenses. Herein, reference to entailing cost and location of a gravesite was set aside. While elderly seniors were dealt a harsh plight with their minimal cash flow vanishing rapidly to unexpected funeral incidentals hat called for prohibitive service of funeral homes as well, and resulted nonetheless in a distressed predicament for the mourning, causing the bereaved and/or conservator to settle on a dire “a-day-after-wake” short-cut route to a crematory. The dilemma does provide a modest, “cut-down” funeral at a going rate of 100,000 to 300,000 yen, approximately $3,500.

Funerals reflecting the faith of deceased, head mourner, and/or benefactor are held to multifarious formats and incidentals. Among them is a long-standing usage of Kai-myo, precept name or a Ho-myo, dharma-name, conferred on the deceased as an essential title ban officiating clergy—signifying his/her post-mortem status of enlightenment. However, as it was at the outset bestowed exclusively as a ministerial title of induction, to prescribe such a title for a lay deceased is viewed to be insensible and contrary to the teachings of Buddha-dharma—whereby Sakyamuni Buddha adamantly disavowed total social class status. While such trappings, et al are categorically listed as O-fu-se, dana in Sanskrit; charitable(s), Ko-den, gift in condolence and O-toki, a religious meal, after a funeral and/or memorial service ar encumbrances that have spurred renouncing temple affiliation.

Summarily positioned, Kojima, Shimada and Ogawa promptly concurred the issue at hand calls for a meaningful tidying up—fortified by guidance of need and understanding most certainly involving the religious hierarchies at large. Of course, the advanced social status of this day awaits particular attention be given to contemporary lifestyles that are outmoding the long-standing traditional funerals and/or burial practices. Considered here is a certain deteriorating element of family ties.  Regardless, though one’s presence at a funeral does bear witness to an integral egral purpose seeking an awareness of its immemorial life force in transition augmented with embracing ties—attesting to a valued momentous event.

Whereas, here in America in a follow-up on funerals is a looming issue on Kai-myo/Ho-myo usage to be reckoned with especially when most US Nikkei are blinded by so-called posthumous (religious) titles—ranked Greek as given in Chinese writings and/or Chinese phonics. Whereon, it strikes to be time serving to advance straight forward and supplant the titles with the readily identifiable Zoku-myo, common layman’s name(s). Surely, the fusing change offered will be meaningful and beneficial to the new generations.

Curiously, during the Korea conflict military service in Japan, the single temple located in Tokyo holding regular Sunday religious services were at the Tsukiji Nishi Hongwanji Temple. It was a let down, however, in the ensuing 4-1/2 year tenure, assigned to Western and Southern regions. No other Sunday services were to be found. All temples in Japan provide burial plots Sunday services are not a common practice. Here in America, in its 100-year history Buddhist temples have adopted the Sunday service program—viewed as an innovative fusion. Concerned circles anticipate reformations empathizing with the ideals of entrusted gratification in a multifunctional family temple. Anjali.

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The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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