Day of the Dead

23 Jan

Last Saturday was the 25th anniversary of hub’s father’s death. Well, actually it was Monday but Saturday was the day we had the priesty slash chanting slash relatives in suits slash bentos and sake thing. Every year on the actual day hub will place a couple of one-cup sakes at the alter and we will all sit in front of it and pray. Hub usually goes to the actual grave too and would have spent a few hours the weekend before weed eating around the grave and polishing the headstone.

Houji however aren’t held every year. They are held every 7 days after the death of someone – up until the 49th day. They are then held the first year, second year, and then in four and then six year intervals – I think. Up until 32 years after the person has actually died – then you can stop inviting all your relies over, buying them all an elaborate bento, giving them a gift and paying a priest a few hundred dollars to chant.

This post is mainly for my own recollection – as the next one is in 6 years and Granny K, if all the stars align, will be in a home and thus I will be left in charge of all things death anniversary related. Actually truth be known, as long as she is of genki body and sane mind I don’t mind if she is still here but (crosses all crossable bits) I just don’t want to be bathing her and spoon feeding her because we didn’t get her on the vestling home list in time ya know!

The Houji was set to start at 11 and while I had the house clean and we had moved the dining room table so we could put the compulsory heated carpet and kotatsu down, there was still stuff to be done. IMG_6565 I was in the middle of getting all the shit done, making the kids look acceptable and was about to jump in the shower at 10am when of course Granny K’s younger sister and husband had to arrive a whole hour early. Faaark. Fortunately hub promptly sent them off to pick up older sister from the home. I jumped in the shower and then had to wriggle round trying to get my black dress pants on that I haven’t worn since last April. Granny K’s brother and wife arrived next IMG_6575 He is a priest too so came in his priestly garb and got to sit next to the priest doing the chanting – although actually we all had a book to follow the chanting but in terms of priestly hierarchy for the day he was second in command.

There were 11 guests in all, including the head priest who walked from next door with his bag of chant books and folding seat five minutes before said chanting was beginning. Eldest brother brought up the rear and once everyone was seated – Marina and Shou included (Ryu refused) the chanting got underway. It lasts about 45 minutes and is pretty much at the top of ‘shit I don’t want to be doing on a Saturday’ but really, you can’t get out of it. Fortunately I had to make sure the kids stopped jumping on the beds upstairs and answer the door to the restaurant Granny K had ordered the lunch obentos from… IMG_6579The chanting stops and then the priest talks abut the deceased for ten minutes or so and they all reminisce, I presume about the fun stuff and not the fact he was an alcoholic who sat drinking at home all day while Granny K biked to the local underwear factory to sew for their supper before coming home and looking after three boys and catering to his every whim.

It was then time to get the long tables out – which were set out in a コ shape with the end table being in front of the alter and at which the two priests sat. The guests sat in order of importance at the table beside uncle priest, while Eldest brother, Granny K and hub sat at the table to the left of the head Priest. The old biddies sat at the kotatsu table at the other end. I was self-relegated to the kids table in the other room.

The obentos came with chawan-mushi (steamed egg pudding) and a soup, but Granny K had still insisted on making her own miso-shiru and cooking up enough white rice to keep Unicef in business for a week. Yes, the obentos had rice in them but according to Granny K you can’t not offer hot rice or the gates of hell might openeth and swallow you uppeth. So she told me to get the rice. I went to the rice cooker and low and behold she hadn’t turned the fuckin switch on. I try and baseball-style sign language this to her because I don’t want her feeling like a fool in front of the other women. She can’t understand my signs for rice cooker, cold and twat, so I have to tell her, to which she immediately declares it the worst thing in the world and god damn that Marina, the fool, I TOLD her to tell you to put the switch on at 10am.

I think now it is, by womb association, my fault that the guests have no hot rice. I promptly turn the switch on, apologize to the masses, and retreat to swear obscenities into my bento at the kids table. At least it was yummy. IMG_6582Had I been a proper Japanese wife I would have been in pouring beer and sake, offering cups of green tea and generally just fussing while my obento goes noticeably uneaten. As it happened though I stayed in here, making sure dishes were washed, there was a bottomless pot of green tea, the boys were eating their lunch, the beer was cold….. while Marina was honing her Japanese wifey skills by doing what I ‘should have been’… IMG_6583As lunch was drawing to a close Granny K got Marina to (read as, where the fuck is your mother, she should be doing this) hand out the ‘thank you gifts’ – cause lord help you if you don’t give out thank you gifts. I was quite happy to do it and hovering around in face, but by this stage everyone was so enchanted by Marina that it would have been a complete let down if I had done it. Granny K had ordered locally made sweets which I’m not sure I’d be less or more pleased to receive than the washing powder that got handed out 6 years ago.

Other notes to self for next one.

  • remember to get flowers for alter. Doesn’t matter which. Granny K just got the cheap ones from the supermarket.
  • When the incense gets passed around during the chanting sprinkle a pinch of ‘stuff’ into the bowl with the incense, put hands together and bow, then pass on to next person. Get Shou to sit by the door so he can get out if he needs to, as opposed to him loudly declaring the smell and smoke is going to make him throw up – which if he had – would have been all over the back of the priest.
  • Remember to air the cushions out for at least two afternoons before the day. Then line them up with the white cover cushions for the chanting and the other cushions for lunch time


  • Ask hub about the envelope leaning up against the alter. Hmmm. I presume it has money in it but not entirely sure how much.
  • On the money thing – the priest got 40,000 yen, which hub took to him the following morning.
  • Obentos – the kids were 1,500 yen and the adults 3,500 yeah each.

Right, that’s all I can think of at the moment. Let’s hope I can pull it all off in 6 years. Must. Practice. Japanese. Wife. Skills. SDGH&QL


6 Responses to “Day of the Dead”

  1. Amanda Harlow January 23, 2015 at 3:30 am #

    Thankyou for your informative blog post. I am taking the notes. I will surely be using of this information. Please check my blog about

    • gaijinwife January 23, 2015 at 5:47 am #

      There sure is a lot of etiquette involved with all this stuff and we are on year 25 so imagine what it will be like when Granny K and Okaasan first die! Not that I plan on them coming back and doing it all a second time but ya know what I mean :p

  2. Kelly January 23, 2015 at 6:13 am #

    who wouldn’t be a priest hey? Get a free meal and $400 just for mumbling some shit at someone’s house! Your post was so funny, thank you for cheering me up.

    • Debra January 23, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

      What an interesting post – and a very nice way to remember someone. Though wow, that’s a lot of cash for chanting…

  3. Jones January 26, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

    My Japan-originating family has been in the USA about 100 years and we STILL do some of that stuff! And no one has thought to take notes….I’m going to rely on your notes!

  4. Mari January 27, 2015 at 11:11 am #

    Ahh, I went to one of the one/two year events last fall. It was at the shrine though and we could sit on real chairs *thank god* With all the Japanese family I met there for the first time, I felt really weird and out of place. I didn’t know what to do with the “stuff” you put in the bowl on the left, so I just copied and “prayed” for someone I never met. I wish I would have met my hubbys grandparents though but at this moment I didn’t have the time and nerves to actually think about this lol

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