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The Continuation of the Funeral Process

I have suddenly had to return home to the UK, so I find myself sitting here in Peterborough, typing the long-awaited second part of my funeral piece.

I got home to find the otsuya (the wake) over, the neighbours clearing up and doing preparations for the next day's funeral, and the immediate relatives in various stages of inebriation. A young man and two older ones were having a fierce discussion, with raised voices. Funerals bring together people who haven't met each other for years and often feuds which have been simmering on a back-burner for years are suddenly brought up to a boil. It is not unknown for brawls to break out on such occasions. It was getting really heated and the deceased's daughter, husband and young son who were intending to stay the night at the temple were hovering with unease in the main temple hall.  I spoke to them and I advised them to spend the night at their own home and let the drunken guys do the attending the corpse duty and to let them sleep it off over night.

I made sure everyone knew where the futons were and the light switches were and I retired for the night.

I was up at my usual unearthly hour and noted that everyone was very subdued (hungover) and calm. The neighbours are old hands at the funeral business, as we had had a funeral for their group of houses only about 3 months before. The vegetarian pre-funeral food (otoki) was all made, they busied themselves putting it in all the little lacquered dishes for the guests, the guys were ready on the reception desk set up under a tent in front of the temple hall, and the stream of visitors started to come.

My father-in-law and I performed this funeral, as Junsho AGAIN was busy with other commitments. The funeral service itself only takes 40 or so minutes, longer if there are a lot of telegrammes to read, or if the eulogies are very long. I ring the outside bell, the kansho, 5 minutes before the service is due to start.  The whole service is MC-ed by the japanese agriculture funeral representative, complete with sombre music. Father-in-law, bedecked in shichijo-gesa and shiki-e (the most formal robes) enters the hall first, then I go in.  He performs a buddhist naming ceremony, up close and personal with the deceased, and it involves waving a cut-throat razor around and doing a special chant (seriously).

Then we start on the main service, which involves two chants, a short one, sanbujo, then a long one, a special version of shoshinge. I do the bell ringing during these chants and the funeral guests file up (when called by the MC) to the incense burner in front of the coffin to offer incense and to pay their respects. After the chanting is over, the chief mourner says some words, then the coffin lid is taken off, the guests break off the heads of the flowers in all the flower arrangements on display (given by friends and relatives in honour of the deceased) and lay the flowers in the coffin, immediately around the deceased. 

This can be a very emotional time, as it is the final farewell. The lid is then replaced on the coffin and it is carried out to the hearse, which is waiting at the foot of the temple hall stairs. Then, the relative who is holding the formal photo of the deceased is invited to sit in the front seat of the hearse, and the relative carrying the empty (for now) urn sits in the seat next to the coffin.  The priest gets to sit in the lead car, which is in front of the hearse. The hearse driver bows formally to everyone, and then with a long, mournful blast of the car horn, the procession sets off to the crematorium, which is about 10 minutes away from our temple. The rest of the guests jump in their cars and follow, while the people who stay behind hold their hands together in front of their chests and bow as the hearse departs.

As soon as the hearse is gone it's my turn to rush around like a maniac getting the temple hall rearranged and set up for the after cremation services, because the whole funeral party then returns to the temple for more chanting, a slap-up after funeral meal, and general waiting around until we get a call from the crematorium telling us the remains are ready to be collected.

To be continued!

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Genbuzan Shonen-ji Temple, Kamino 2771, Takachiho-cho, Nishiusuki-gun, Miyazaki-ken, Japan 882-1411