Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Paying Respects and Construction Bills

These days it seems like my posts are getting to be fewer and further between. I have to wonder whether it is due to a lack of inspiration, too much time spent reading and commenting on other people’s blogs, too many matters of everyday life on my mind, end of the school year blues, spring fever, or a combination of the above. My musical composition seems to be suffering a similar fate; the Telecaster my wife gave me for my birthday is still sitting on its stand, inert and forlorn. Actually, there is no lack of ideas; I have things running through my mind all the time. It’s just that most of them seem too trite or bland to bother with, and the rest are only slightly better, making it all seem hardly worth the effort.

Maybe I’m trying to set my standards too high. In the past I’ve often had my biggest musical or literary successes when I said “screw perfect” and just went with whatever came to mind. Perhaps the moral of this story is, “Don’t try so damned hard,” but I have yet to learn my lesson.

Yesterday was the Vernal Equinox, called shunbun no hi (春分の日) in Japanese. It’s one of the occasions of the year when the family goes to the ancestors’ graves to clean them and leave flowers and incense. Actually, the number of graves we have to attend to is small. It used to be MUCH greater, but not long after I got married some of my mother-in-law’s relatives got together and, without telling anyone else, decided to remodel the gravesite into a very fancy one. Essentially, they constructed a high-class clan memorial…but only for the patriarchal line (i.e. the line of first-born sons and their families). Several small, solitary graves of ancestors with no heirs were simply covered over and forgotten. Room was made nearby to accommodate most of the other relatives, but alas, (or should I say “conveniently”) there was no space left for our branch. That meant the graves of my wife’s three deceased maternal grandparents (my mother-in-law’s birth father and both her adoptive parents, who were related…long story…) had to be relocated to a new site further down the hill. I shouldn’t complain too much; there are fewer graves to tend and fewer steps to climb to get to them. However, to this day I still seriously wonder whether I was the reason it happened, since it meant my mother-in-law’s line was more or less kicked out of the clan soon after I entered it.

Our family graves are unique for another reason. My mother-in-law’s birth father and adoptive mother were both cremated, as usual. There are only urns in the little vaults beneath their stones. However, my wife’s beloved grandfather, my mother-in-law’s adoptive father, was buried directly rather than cremated. Since the burial plots are really shallow, there is a very noticeable mound over the remains. That grandfather was apparently the old man I saw when we first brought our baby daughter home from the hospital (see "Chapter Five" in this post). Not only that, but when we neglected to tend the family graves on the Vernal Equinox two years later, our household suffered a rash of strange malfunctions (my computer, my studio equipment, the TV, the video player, the washing machine, and the refrigerator) which all suddenly corrected themselves when we made a quick visit to the graveyard. Needless to say, my wife and I always give that mound extra special attention!

Speaking of which, I hope our visit this time was sufficient to keep the grandparents happy till the Bon festival in August. Now we’re doing our best to keep certain living relatives happy, specifically the two uncles that are still working on our house. The construction is proceeding nicely (one might say TOO nicely…since Uncle Shigeru the carpenter and his high standards keep leading us to decide on ever more expensive additions to the list) though not quite as quickly as I’d hoped (which is probably a good thing, actually, though pretty damned inconvenient when you’re trying to live in a half-built house). When my wife and I aren’t at work we do our best to help out. For the most part that means my wife provides tea breaks and meals, and I carry and clean things. Anything to help keep it all running smoothly…and quickly.

Besides, I’m getting lots of exercise.

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  • I fully expect your "filial piety" label to get a lot of action over the coming months, but only because I think it is funny to say. Filial Piety. Teeheehee.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 2:36 AM  

  • I totally understand about the "quickly" part. Especially when we were having our one and only bathroom remodeled, it felt like AAAAAGGGGHHH!

    By Blogger ladybug, at 5:07 AM  

  • Kicking the ancestors’ graves out… ouch! Maybe there’s song in that!

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 7:39 AM  

  • Does your wife prepare Japanese green tea with those yummy snacks? I really miss those japanese green tea ceremony :)

    By Blogger Selba, at 7:38 PM  

  • Snabu-Don
    Well, thus far relations with dad-in-law during this year's construction effort have remained stable. He has been very reasonable and careful to explain every financial step so as to avoid a repeat of last year's disaster.

    Right now the only problem is the fact that my wife's uncle keeps talking us into adding more and more expensive extras to the construction. I realize a lot of it is the fact that he takes great pride in his work and scoffs at his older brother's (i.e. dad-in-law's) (rather hypocritical) self-imposed poverty. He wants to make our house into a real house, which is nice, but we're already going way over budget.

    I also have to wonder if he gets kickbacks from the suppliers of the materials and appliances he's been ordering. Most other sorts of professionals do.

    I know exactly what that was like. Our bathroom is currently under construction, meaning we have to use the in-laws' toilet (or the "outdoor toilet") for the next few days.

    What's really bizarre is that the relatives that built that marble and brass monstrosity aren't very well off at all. Among my mother-in-law's extended family, the only ones that have money are herself (though you'd never know it since my in-laws have always tried to ape the clan's average lifestyle while spending all their money on stock...and bribes...) and her birth mother, who lives in Tokyo. The members of the clan that live in our neighborhood are all farmers and blue-collar workers. Fancy family graves like that cost a fortune, and I have to wonder how (and why ) they were able to afford it. The fact that they did it without discussing it with anyone else (which is unusual...they usually discuss everything ) also makes me wonder.

    Maybe you're right; I should see if there's inspiration to be found there.

    Yes, most of the time she prepares Japanese green tea and Japanese-style snacks (sembei rice crackers and manju dumplings), but sometimes she prepares Western-style black tea and cookies. I think the uncles prefer the Japanese-style snacks. They are rather conservative in their tastes.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:46 PM  

  • It's interesting to note that the malfunctions were mostly with electrical/electronic items. I'm quite impressed with Japanese ancestors. :-)

    We have a kind of traditional belief (I'm not sure whether it's a Malaysian culture or Chinese culture) that our ancestors would come back to visit us in the form of a moth. So whenever we see a moth, everyone treats it with total respect, and sometimes parents would even ask little children to greet the moth "grandpa"/"grandma" etc... ^_^

    I haven't seen my grandpa in person because he passed away before I was born. So somehow, the moth became a symbolic creature in my heart. Perhaps it's because it is the only thing I can recollect about my grandpa.

    By Blogger YD, at 5:29 AM  

  • Don't take the burial thing personally. Sure, family may be sensitive about your marriage situation, but just think how unusual your grave marker would be, "Here lies the Moody Mistrel, He came, He saw, He had tea."

    By Blogger Pa've, at 10:08 AM  

  • YD
    Uh, oh...I wonder if the sudden moth infestation we had a few years ago (and are still battling to some extent) has something to do with that! What should I do?

    It would be especially unusual because Japanese grave markers never have anything other than the name (and/or "death name") of the deceased. Family graves like the fancy one built by my mother-in-law's local clan usually have only the surname. There's no way of knowing just how many pots full of ashes are buried under them.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:58 AM  

  • Oh noooo... you attacked moths!!!!

    Now I know why all your electrical items went haywire, an eye for an eye. nyek hehehehe...

    By Blogger YD, at 2:57 AM  

  • 'to this day I still seriously wonder whether I was the reason it happened, since it meant my mother-in-law’s line was more or less kicked out of the clan soon after I entered it'??

    Man, this sounds quite heavy...

    Anyway, as you mentioned, it is quite rare to have the body buried directly without the cremation...

    By Blogger Lrong, at 10:36 AM  

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