In Japan, there are ceremonies for some very odd things
Everybody knows about Japan’s famous tea ceremony, and of course they also mark weddings, funerals and graduations with ceremonies. But one of the most interesting discussions we’ve been having at book zooms about The Last Tea Bowl Thief is about how the Japanese have ceremonies for all kinds of things besides the biggies.
And I got to thinking. Don’t you think we also need…
Death anniversaries: the best party you’ll ever miss
In Japan, people don’t forget all about you after you’re gone—one year after you become the Dear Departed, they throw a big party! Family and friends are invited, a plate of your favorite foods and a cup of your favorite libation is set out at the head table in front of a nice, flattering picture of you. Toasts are made in your memory. As people begin to enjoy themselves, they share fond stories about you and maybe cry a little, since you’ve only been gone a year. But as time goes by and people gather for your third and seventh and thirteenth etc. death anniversaries, the sadness is replaced by good memories, catching up on family gossip, and generally carrying the circle of life forward.
Funeral for a Thing
You know how sometimes you need to replace a tool you’ve used forever, because it just plain wore out? A favorite kitchen knife? A pair of comfortable shoes that have seen better days? But…it feels wrong to just toss them in the garbage can, doesn’t it?
In Japan, they’ve got a ceremony for that!
February 8th, for example, is the day that old and broken needles are laid to rest. Anyone whose work involves sewing stuff gathers at Awashima Shrine in Asakusa for a requiem service to thank their old needles and pins for good and faithful service.
But tools aren’t the only things deserving of a memorial—some things, like the dolls representing the Imperial Court on Girls’ Day, Daruma wishing figures, and protective amulets all get cremated in a ceremony at a shrine or temple, in order to be properly retired.
(Stuffed animals, action figures and doll toys are still a problem, even in Japan. Nobody wants to be haunted by zombie teddy bears and Barbies that weren’t given a proper Viking Funeral, so maybe we need to come up with some ceremonies of our own!)
Coming-of-age, at more than one age
Everybody knows about Coming-of-Age Day in Japan, when everyone who turned twenty in the past year officially becomes an adult.
But there’s also another coming-of-age day for kids! Shichi-Go-San is when three-year-old girls, five-year-old boys and seven-year-old girls get to celebrate some milestones of their own.
And the best part is that after they endure a minor ceremonial presentation and a major family photo op, they make off with big bags of candy. Score!
A car blessing for the road
Wouldn’t you feel better in that new car if you felt like it was looking out for you? Well, in Japan, you can get off on the right foot with any new vehicle by getting it officially purified at a Shinto Shrine.
Personal purification that doesn’t require any tedious inner self-examination
I’m not sure who first thought that walking across burning coals would be an awesome way to wipe the slate clean, but sometime in the distant past, that’s exactly what a bunch of more-rugged-then-thou Japanese warrior priests learned to do.
Monks who practice Shugendo also endure other feats of physical NO NO NO AIEEEEE ANYTHING BUT THAT, like splashing themselves with boiling water and chanting sutras while standing nearly naked under a pounding (ice cold) waterfall
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Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had