During certain times of the year (beginning of spring, Obon in August, beginning of fall) every self-respecting Japanese makes a trip to a cemetery to pay respects to his/her ancestors.
Now, I’m not a fan of cemeteries. I can think of a bazillion other, more important things that can occupy my time instead of cleaning graves, shearing bushes and pulling weeds. Like staying home and watching TV, for example.
But familial duties are familial duties, and since my family is mostly Japanese these days, I didn’t have much choice this morning. Armed with a set of shears and a camera, I joined my in-laws in the annual fall cemetery pilgrimage.
The first stop was a shinto-style cemetery to visit one grandfather. The next stop was a buddhist cemetery to visit the other grandpa. Though for the life of me, I can’t tell the difference between the shinto and the buddhist places. At both sites joss sticks were burned and prayers were said (although only at the shinto cemetery hands were clapped – twice). Fresh flowers were arranged, bushes were trimmed and both graves were tidied up and made to look pretty. I was told not to shear the overgrown mess at an adjacent grave, because the spirit would attach its ghostly self to me, come home with us and then haunt me.
I thought that perhaps if I pacified the dead neighbor with a snack and a drink I’d be left alone.
The buddhist cemetery was a huge place with a multitude of sectors and levels. And even an occasional christian cross. That’s religious tolerance for you.