Ohaka Mairi

We headed up to Tokyo today to see my mother-in-law since we’ll be busy over the usual family-gathering days of Oshogatsu (the Japanese new year).

We also did ohaka mairi (visiting someone’s final resting place) for Hisashi’s father and other ancestors.

Ohaka mairi is taken pretty seriously in Japan, though customs depend on the area (with Okinawa’s ohaka mairi, as well as the shape of their gravestones, being particularly special).

Our family is Shinto, so after tidying things up, trimming branches off bushes and washing the stone walkway down, we place sakaki branches in two water cups on the gravestone. (Buddhist families place flowers instead of sakaki. Buddhist graves also have otoba—wooden sticks with writing on them—behind the headstones.) We then each have a little pray and off we go.

Our family ohaka is in one of Tokyo’s biggest cemeteries, and it is huge; I’ve gotten lost wandering around before. There are large plots and small plots, gigantic stones and simple markers—there’s even one shaped like a pyramid.

There’s also a “foreigners” section, where there are crosses and Stars of David and all sorts of other stones.

Tama Rei-en (Tama Cemetery) is a fascinating place, and stunningly gorgeous. In spring, it’s a wonderful place to see cherry blossoms, and in fall, there are quite a few trees that turn brilliant red, orange or yellow. I think it might actually be one of my favourite places in the city—but then, I like cemeteries. I love the tranquility, and I feel close to my grandparents.

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