In Japan, today is the day that everyone goes to the family grave and pays respects by lighting candles and incense, leaving some treats, and saying a prayer. People return to their hometowns from all over the country, so it’s a nightmare getting anywhere regardless of your mode of transportation. Thankfully we live on the quiet side of Japan, as do my in-laws, and we left a few days before the major rush.
If you aren’t familiar with Japanese graves, they usually consist of a large stone or marble headstone with the family name, and around that are smaller headstones for individual family members. Rather than grave yards like we have in the States, small family plots are scattered all over the place — in the middle of rice paddies, under a grove of trees, next to the parking lot at 7-11. They are everywhere, and probably one of the first things you notice when you come to Japan. This time of year, and especially today, the graves are adorned with fresh flowers and lit candles, and you can’t walk far without wafting in the scent of ‘grave’ incense.
It would’ve been really helpful if I’d taken some pictures of the Iguchi family plot to illustrate all I have just describe, eh? But I suppose taking pics of graves is a bit taboo, especially when the family is right there. Instead, I took a bunch of pictures of country roads.
We had been out and about for while with Chieko’s parents and thing were, GASP, taking time. I was getting a bit of a hair across my ass because, dammit, I wanted to go for a bike ride and take pretty pictures. When we eventually made it home I promptly pumped up my bike tires, filled my water bottle, and was flying down the road like a gaijin possessed.
I knew Chieko’s family was planning their pilgrimage to the family grave and wanted to join them, and it didn’t take me long to start feeling guilty about buggering off so quickly. Within 5 minutes I was passing graves everywhere (like I said) with crowds of families paying their respects.
I had no particular destination in mind, I mostly wanted to get some exercise and perhaps some pictures. To my left was a swath of rice paddies tiered up to the foot of the mountains, so I took the nearest opportunity to head that way. I road around some very nice, old neighborhoods, doubly self-conscious because I was not only the very random foreigner riding around but also because there were flocks of families making their way to the family plot.
There were some darkish clouds rolling down from the mountaintops with the occasional rumble of thunder. Very timely, given all the communicating with dead family members that was going on. I interpreted it as Chieko’s ancestors chiding me for keeping the family waiting, and threatening to soak me with rain at best and strike me down with lightning at worst if I didn’t get my priorities straight.
So I cut my ride somewhat short and headed back home, more concerned with getting caught in the rain than actually pissing off any spirits. Of course, once I got home my father in law was still out watering the yard, my mother in law was busy doing something in the kitchen, and there was no real rush to get to the family plot. Eventually we all wandered over, and respects were paid as the thunder continued in the background.