Monday, May 13, 2013
Friday, May 10, 2013
baby picture credit: (Note: The baby in this picture is not related to any of the babies in the story, as far as I know. It's just a terribly cute baby named Otto, and I hope his parents, whose blog I found this picture on, won't mind if I use him to represent happy babies everywhere.)
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Taku is heading for Japan shortly for a memorial service for his grandmother and has been out buying a black suit and black tie so as not to stand out as an ugly American with a Hawaiian shirt for the occasion. And the talk, over pizza, turned to death and dying and other things funereal.
"What are those slats you find at Japanese graves?" Jason asked.
"I don't know," Taku answered. "Something written in Sanskrit."
And we sat there feeling real uninformed - which we were, of course - and in need of enlightenment. It was something both of us - Taku with his twenty-four years spent in Japan and me with my twenty-four years spent in Japan (not all the same years) - felt we ought to have picked up somewhere, but hadn't.
The first thing I discovered, as I went digging this morning, was that those flat-faced wooden slats you find next to Japanese graves are called sotōba. In Chinese characters, that’s: 卒塔婆. And that strikes me as terribly curious, since sotōba (actually the second o is a long o, so it’s pronounced so-toe-oh-ba, ((but say it real fast so nobody thinks you’re stressing the oh)) ) is actually the Japanese way of saying “stupa.” And stupas, as you know, are those round things that look like an inverted tea cups. So how did tea cups turn into flat sticks, Roseanne Rosannadanna wants to know…
Bereaved families throughout Japan have been shocked by the amounts of money charged by priests and temples. Bills totaling several million yen are not uncommon and have left many people feeling like victims of price-gouging.
… “Kaimyo is not a commodity to be traded for money,” says the Japan Buddhist Federation, comprised of 60 established Buddhist sects. “Any money or gift you give to your priest or temple is strictly a donation you offer voluntarily.”
Her story lives on in Noh Drama and in poetry. Here she is, in her old age, sitting on a stupa (a highly irreverant act, we have to note). Which leads to another question. If she dies of grief, what the hell is she doing sitting on the stupa in her old age? Answer one question and another just pops up. Apparently she lived to a ripe old age and had plenty of time to "meditate on the arrogance and heartlessness she displayed to her suitors as a young beauty" (so this happened more than once?) before dying of a broken heart.
And you've got to love the poetry, (it's a waka, by the way) I think:
|Original Japanese Text||Roman characters||Approximate meaning|
|Hana no iro wa
Wa ga mi yo ni furu
Nagame seshi ma ni
| The flower colors
wilted and faded away|
while I meaninglessly
existed in this world
as the long lasting rain continued
|top to bottom: sky, wind, fire, water, earth|
So much Google can teach you when you let your fingers do the walking. This search took a while, but I got there. The real fun part, though, were all the distractions along the way.
Like this, for example:
The high prices of funeral plots, costing on average 2 million yen, have led to a new service of Grave Apartments (お墓のマンション ohaka no manshon?), where a locker-sized grave can be purchased for about 400,000 yen. Some of these may even include a touch screen showing a picture of the deceased, messages, a family tree, and other information. Due to the cost of land, a graveyard in Tokyo has recently been opened by a temple in floors 3 to 8 of a nine story building, where the lower floors are for funeral ceremonies.[citation
There are a number of cases where the ashes of deceased persons have been stolen from graves. The ashes of famous cartoonist Machiko Hasegawa and of the wife of real estate chairman Takichi Hayasaka were stolen for ransom. The ashes of famous novelist Yukio Mishima (1925–1970) were stolen in 1971 and the ashes of novelist Naoya Shiga were stolen in 1980. The ashes of the wife of the baseball player Sadaharu Oh went missing in December 2002. (source).
|The Mimizuka Stupa|
Anyway, you can see (left) how the stupa is now getting vertical.
And here you see (on the right) a close-up of a wooden stick divided into the five parts.
The search for the what these sticks were on all these Japanese graves, which led to the discovery that they were the same thing as stupas, is now solved. Check out here, for example, where you read, just to sum up:
The stupa was originally a structure or other sacred building containing a relic of Buddha or of a saint, then it was gradually stylized in various ways and its shape can change quite a bit according to the era and to the country where it is found. Often offertory strips of wood with five subdivisions and covered with elaborate inscriptions also called sotoba can be found at tombs in Japanese cemeteries (see photo below). The inscriptions contain sūtra and the posthumous name of the dead person. These can be considered stupa variants.
picture credits: the Gotemba stupa