CONTRIBUTED BY STACI HAWLEY
Rites of passages. All cultures have them. And if you are lucky enough to know a few local people who are willing to share- you can really learn a lot. We’ve covered the cultural nuances of weddings here, so I thought I would broach another topic; death and the rituals behind it. I had a fascinating conversation with my ESL class (mainly local Okinawans) about the rituals and ceremonies surrounding the passing of a loved one. They had many questions for me, that I was quite surprised to hear. Here’s a sampling of what they wanted explained:
1. What is the purpose of a funeral home?
2. Why would you leave your relative/loved one overnight without protection of the family?
3. What is embalming and why is in necessary? Can you choose to refuse it?
Great questions. It stumped me. I had never really thought about the big business of funerals. Then I started talking to my mother about my grandmas funeral last August. My grandmother’s coffin (above), while beautiful and elegant cost around 3,000.000. The funeral home had their fees. The church. The catering. And not to mention the stress of planning it all in a short time- while getting her six children back ASAP to a small Midwestern town.
I’m not criticizing it all. It’s the way we do things in America. You can actually buy your casket here at Costco. In reality, I’m cool with a pine box, and actually am all up for a “green funeral“. I took this article to base legal (to attach to my will) and they looked at me like I was insane. But I shared this request with my Okinawan students, and they assured me things are different here.
Many families leave the body at home (to be viewed) by friends and family. It is very important that there is always someone their watching over and protecting the body. The thought of having some “funeral home” take away your loved one was a bit horrifying to them. Then I had to ask about the lack of embalming. Quite simply, the body is on ice and is kept cool until time for cremation.
While the business of funerals is quite different, many of the same customs and respectful touches are similar. Often Japanese families will have a table with flowers, and candles and incense. The final clothes for resting can be a suit or a kimono for women. My students also told me that coins are often put it in the casket as well as their favorite things (snacks, beverages, etc). My grandma had her rosary and some old recipes buried with her. Her coffin was elegantly whisked away in a big white limousine. Defiantly not as flashy as the Japanese hearse (below).
So if you are fortunate enough to get to know a local Okinawan, take the time to inquire about their culture. You’ll be surprised at how open most people are to have the opportunity to explain and teach about what makes their culture unique.
As for the last article, you’ll have to wait until January (after my due date). I’m going to explore “birth” and will be discussing the birth of my first son (born in mainland in a Japanese clinic off base) to kid # 2- born a Lester. One thing I will be taking with me this time however, is my huge velcro girdle (bought from a Japanese friend to shrink the stomach after delivery). It’s the believing that makes things work, right??!!