Japanese Funeral Wakes

Monday, July 16, 2012

Over the last couple of days I have been attending the wake (otsuya) and funeral ceremony (soushiki) of my mother-in-law, who sadly passed away on Saturday morning.

Funeral altar and coffin

Many of the rites and traditions of Japanese funerals and wakes may well appear strange and rather morbid to other nationalities and faiths.

In our case the ceremony took place at a funeral parlor in suburban Nagoya over Sunday and Monday. The deceased, clothed in a pure white kimono, is placed in a plain, wooden coffin in front of an elaborate altar covered with flowers, candles, vegetables (carrots, cucumber and a cauliflower), fruit (apples), a cup of Japanese tea and the traditional bowl of rice with a pair of chopsticks thrust vertically into the rice.

The coffin has a glass window covered with a white cloth to allow mourners to view the face of the deceased, which has been carefully and expertly dressed by the funeral parlor's skilled and efficient undertakers.

Japanese slippers

The wake consists of a priest of the same religious sect (in this case Soto sect Zen) of the deceased directing the service. The priest, garbed in rich gowns and a pair of orange and golden slippers, chants the funeral service accompanying himself with a wooden mokugyo gong and metal bowl-shaped rin gong.

Mourners arrive dressed in black and all offer prayers, bows and incense to the spirit of the deceased. Even after the prayers from the priest have finished, mourners arrive throughout the evening to pay their respects, following signs to the funeral parlor set up on the streets outside.

Japanese funeral sign

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