I was on the Shinkansen, travelling to Nagoya,
from there to head south down the Kii Peninsula to Kiho-cho, the
place where my daughters' grandfather was born, and where he spent
all his life. All that is, but the final year, during which he stayed
with us in our Tokyo apartment, and then the final few weeks, which
he spent in a nearby hospital.
He passed away there at 84 years of age, on an
April morning, the fifth birthday of his youngest grand-daughter, my
daughter Fumi, and followed later the very same day by his younger
sister in her 70's, who was still living back in the home village.
With only a very few relatives living nearby, we
had a very quiet and simple evening vigil for him in our town's
funeral hall. His wife of 60 years was there, as were two out of his
three daughters, four out of his five grand-daughters, and myself.
(He also had two great-grand-daughters ... not one boy in the whole
lot of 10 descendants.) The next day he was cremated, and together,
we filled the simple china urn with his ashes.
It was this urn, packed in a small box, and tied
with a furoshiki-type cloth, which I was now carrying on the train,
on his final ride back to his home town. His eldest daughter was
waiting for us there in the family home at the edge of Ozato village.
I passed her the urn, and she placed it in a spot she had prepared in
front of the family altar. Over the next couple of days, Grandad's
friends and acquaintances came by to pay respects. It was not a
particularly sad or dreary time. As he had been quite old, and
bed-ridden for some time, his passing had not been a shock or
The arrangements were made with his temple for the
funeral, and when the day came, we all trooped up there for the
service. The women sat kneeling in the formal 'seiza' style on one side of the
room, and we men sat in the cross-legged 'agura' style on the other.
Grandad had been very devout, spending his final years deep in
religious activities, and had been a strong supporter of this local
temple. So the priest quite warmed to his job, and the service lasted
a long, long time. Now every day, I sit in this cross-legged style
while working on my woodblock prints, so this wasn't such a problem
for me, but some of the farmers and town people around me were not
quite so comfortable. A rather heavy-set florid man next to me
started swaying this way and that, and a bit later started a good
strong snoring. We ignored him, as did the priest, who continued
intoning his endless chants.
An eternity later, it came to an end, and we
walked across to the graveyard, high up on the sunny side of the
valley, overlooking the scattered houses and rice fields below. His
daughter carried the urn, someone else brought a shovel, and the
priest brought along a few other things. I wasn't sure what to
expect, but these people had seen all this many times before, and the
ritual proceeded quickly. A rather small hole was dug in front of the
gravestone memorializing past members of the family (mostly prepared
by Grandad himself), and then rather to my surprise, the urn was not
carefully placed into the hole, but was rather opened, and the
contents unceremoniously tipped out into the earth. Grey dust and
white, charred bone fragments - all tumbled out together.
On top of these remains, the priest laid a white
robe that Grandad had used in one of his many circumnavigations of
the 88 temples of Shikoku, and then a tiny slip of folded paper,
containing the 'kaimyo', his new name for the afterlife, which
Grandad had gone to special pains to procure a few years ago. The
earth went back into the hole, we tidied up a bit, and then everyone
went home. It was all over. An 84 year long journey was all over.
In the train, on the way home to Tokyo, I carried
no urn, but instead bore a different burden. The vision of that
little hole in the ground, and the jumble of bones. As I write these
words, I am 42 years old ... halfway ...