- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
“Kaho-chan, you don’t remember me, do you? I saw you once when you were a tiny wee baby. How grown-up you’ve become!” An old lady beams at me, her eyes misting over. I smile as if I remember as well, before politely excusing myself.
I hardly know anyone in the room other than my uncle, my mother, my great-aunt, and my grandparents. There’s about thirty of us, and everyone I don’t know is at least 60 years old. We’re all connected in some way- a cousin, a husband of a cousin, an aunt, an ex-employee at the family store, somebody’s close friend. My mother and uncle tease each other about their weights, and my grandmother and great-grandmother are the life of the party, choking on their food as they giggle with their child hood friends about that time they got into a fight with that dreadful girl, Matsumoto san, that annoying teacher’s pet who only wanted herself to look good, she deserved it, she really did.
I hate that my hair has been completely pulled up, with my bangs out of the way, fully revealing my face. “Kaho, these are conservative people. They wouldn’t approve of you dying your hair. Plus, it would stand out too much against your dress”, my mother had said. I smooth the stiff black dress that I have been forced into and sigh.
My mother coaxes me to eat. The vegetable tempura, the tofu with soybean; everything smells heavenly. Of course, there’s no meat. Out of respect. Yet, I don’t eat. How could I? I look around, and everyone is digging in. It’s a shame that I started loving Asian food after I moved to London, and I’m absolutely certain it’s no coincidence. I pick up my chopsticks, but put them down as soon as I do. I remember what my mother had used this utensil for only several hours ago. To pick up the bones of her dead grandmother.
Apparently she adored me when I was young, but by time I had moved back to Japan in the 3rd grade, she was bedridden and senile. I used to toss a plastic ball to her as she sat on her bed, and she would throw it right back at me, with concentration and joy in her laughter. She could hardly recognize her own grand daughter, let alone her great granddaughter who had left for a country far away for six years. I was scared by her, and my inability to understand what she was saying, and her old, old face, with the wrinkles and sunken eyes. My mother and grandmother always joked about how vain she used to be. She refused to exit a bullet train without being escorted and gave the homeless war veterans hundred dollar bills. It’s a shame I was never able to meet this proud lady. In her coffin, she looked weaker than ever, her skin yellowing from the time that had passed since her death.
My mother, father, and I were visiting a temple in Kyoto when my great grandmother died. We were buying an “omamori”, or protection charm for her. We knew her condition was worsening, but it wasn’t until dinner that we heard the news. In the morning, my mother and I took the first train to Toyama.
My dead great grandmother was in the sitting room. My mother and I knelt down next to her, and Ei-chan, my great-aunt, quietly joined us. I saw tears well up in my mother’s eyes. I felt tears well up too, but for my mother’s sake. My mother was spoiled silly by her grandmother, just like I am by mine. I gave my mother a hug. I didn’t know the correct Japanese term to console someone, and my great aunt wasn’t someone who I was ever formal with, so I give Ei-chan a hug as well. Japanese people don’t hug; it’s untraditional, it’s unconservative, but I do it anyway. It’s the best way that I can convey my sympathy over the language barrier that divides me from my family. For the rest of the day, we walk around as if my dead grandmother was not in the house with us.
“She waited for you, you know,” Ei-chan mused, as we watched television. “She wanted to say goodbye” The timing was uncanny. My mother and I were only visiting Japan for two weeks, and my great-grandmother had passed away in this short time period. I knew it was no coincidence.
But now she is gone, held in that innocent porcelain vase. The funeral was pretty. Her picture was placed in the front of the room, surrounded by magnificent and bright flowers, lamps, and other trinkets. There was a fuss before the funeral regarding the picture. The funeral people had photoshopped a picture of her to make it seem as if she were wearing a kimono, and straightened out her hunchback and frown. It gave her an unreal and eerie look, and my grandmother frantically demanded for the immediate delivery of one that was not so artificial.
“She was such a dignified lady, and this picture does her absolutely no justice, don’t you think Kaho-chan? Her back might be bent in this picture, but this was her. I don’t like what they did to her.”
This is my first funeral. There is none of the dramatic flourish that I anticipated from blockbuster movies. There is none of the sobbing or weeping, none of the breakdowns in the middle. The two priests chant in unison in the same monotonous voice. They recite ancient sacred Japanese texts that no one understands. I wait for some spiritual uplifting as the priests chant to a god, their god, some god. Everyone becomes restless after a while. We then go inside a spacious room with a high ceiling in the crematorium. In the middle is a dusty stone bed, which holds the ash coated remnants of my great grandmother. I cannot breathe. I see her skull, and various other small bones. She was weak, and her old bones were brittle. As my family members take the chopsticks to pick up her bones, I cannot move. My great grandmother is being transported into a single urn; a body that I had seen resting in peace yesterday is being picked up like everyday food by numerous people.
“Kaho, it’s your turn”. I shake my head, and my breathing becomes irregular. I am heaving, and I do not want to open my mouth; I do not want to breathe in the ashes of my great grand mother.
“It’s disrespectful, she should do it.”
“She’s scared, let her be. Here, sit down”
On the bus back from the crematorium to the funeral home, I sit next to my grandfather. My breathing has returned to normal. The tears that I had suppressed fall, so I look out the window, but my sniffles give me away. My grandfather hands me a tissue. We sit in a silence until he asks, “What did you have for lunch today?” He is unsure whether to look at my face or not, but I see that he expects an answer. With a wobbly voice, I reply, “Curry bread from the bakery. How about you?” My grandfather then launches into great depth about the traffic that held him and Ken-Chan, my uncle, up and how they ate the most delicious ramen noodles at some highway food stop. We chat about life in the countryside and his childhood. All I feel is love.