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Christmas for Japanese/日本人にとってのクリスマス

Now you can see Christmas ornaments and trees everywhere in Japan.
Christmas tree illumination

It is said that most Japanese believe in Shintoism and/or Buddhism and only one percent of its population believe in Christianity.

But on December 24th and 25th, 90% or more act as if they were Christians. For many couples the most important day is the 24th . On the 24th, they go out together, for example, for dinner or to spend time together and exchange presents to confirm their relationship. For children, Christmas is an event in which they can wish for whatever presents they want. I believe, Santa Claus is the most important person for them. Some parents try to make their children believe that Santa Claus has really visited.

The most surprising thing to me is that on 26th of December, every single Christmas item is taken away and things for welcoming the new year will be prepared. If you are in Japan in December, you can feel this skittishness in your bones.

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Chopstick Manner/お箸のマナー

At mealtime in Japan, people use knives and folks for Western food, while they use chopsticks for Japanese food. The chopsticks are made of cedar or bamboo, plastic, ivory. In most households in Japan, each family member has their own chopsticks and children usually use chopsticks shorter than those of adults and sometime their chopsticks have a pretty picture. When they eat together from a shared hot pot or a large plate, one picks up pieces with the chopsticks provided for picking-up use. The acts such as receiving a food through chopsticks or sticking chopsticks in rice are taboos because they associate funeral behaviors. Hovering your chopstick above the food wandering what to eat and scrape off rice on your chopsticks with a rice bowl edge are also considered bad manners.

(Above is my translation of a question from a past guide certificate test.)

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Particular way of Funeral proceeding in Hakodate/お葬式の函館ルール

Many people who come from outside of Hakodate to attend a funeral here are sometimes surprised at the fact that they can't see the corpse of the departed.

In general, the funeral proceed as follows:
1)Passying away→2)Wake(The family and friends stay with the departed through a night)→3)funeral service→4)Carrying out of the coffin and Cremation→5)Dine together to end the funeral→→→6)49th memorial service

But in Hakodate, the procceding is as follows:
1)Passying away→2)Carrying out of the coffin and Cremation→3)Wake(The family and friends stay with the departed through a night)→4)funeral service→5)Dine together to end the funeral→→→6)49th memorial service

As you see above, in Hakodate when a person passes away, the corpse will be cremated immediately. So the departed spends his wake and funeral service in the condition of bones.(Surely the bones are kept in a special wooden box.)

For the attendants who are expected to see the corpse of the departed people, it surprises them a lot. For me it was more surprising that I was asked to clean the body of my husband's aunt when I attended the wake of hers.

"Oh, we don't have opportunity to pray for the raw buddha.(the corpse of the departed) here", he said like this.

The previous day, I heard an exact expression for the corpse. It was "Nama-Botoke(lit. Raw Buddha)." In Japan people often say that the departed people become Buddha themselves. In Japanese word "Joubutsu" means exactly becoming a buddha. An attendant expressed the departed who has its body raw as a raw Buddha.

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Which is adequate, Goreizen(御霊前) or Gobutsuzen(御仏前)? A manner at a funeral.

envelopes for funeral

Today I'm attending my grandfather's 33rd memorial service. So I asked my mother about condolence money. She told me to write "Gobutuzen(lit. means, in front of honorable Buddha)" on the front of the envelope and bring it with me. After that, she called and told me that an old acquaintance of our family passed away and I should attend his either wake, or otsuya/お通夜 funeral or kokubetsushiki/告別式(saying good-bye) funeral. I couldn't attend the former so I'm attending the latter one. Usually, when someone dies, on the same day or following day, otsuya funeral is held and on the following day, one's kokubetsushiki funeral is held. For both otsuya or kokubetsushiki funerals, you are supposed to bring condolence money and you should use envelopes written "Goreizen(lit. means in front of horable spirit, or ghost)" on those front. Please refer to the photo above. The left is written gobutsuzen and the right is goreizen. An old form is used for the character "仏" that you see on the left envelope, the second character. You are supposed to write your name under the printed letters.

I wondered how they differed from each other and reseached it on the Internet. According to the many resources, in most of Buddhist schools, they believe that the spirits of departed will be wondering around for 49 days until they can reach to their Buddhahood. So while they are spirits, the offering are called Goreizen, or in front of spirits and on the 49th day after they died, they are believed to be Buddhas, so the offering money and things are called Gobutsuzen, or in front of Buddha.

By the way, my Kojien dictionary says that the departed people's spirits wonder for 49 days and in that time, what they did in their former life is judged and their next incarnation will be decided.

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Role of Kagami-mochi /鏡餅とは

朝市の鏡餅

Kagami-mochi is an intermediate between the Shinto gods and people. Kagami-mochi is offered to the Shinto gods, so it is also called osonae, which means offering, and then eaten by people wishing good luck for a year and sharing gods’ blessing. It is offered to the gods on festive days in Japan. It is a sacred food and there are some origines. Here are three stories about Kagami-mochi.

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Akiko

Author:Akiko
Akiko lives in a city next to Hakodate and loves to drive around Hakodate and surrounding area. I hope people who visit or live in the Southwest area of Hokkaido come to love the area, too.
函館の隣町在住で道南エリアのドライブ大好きAkikoです。道南を訪れたり、住んでいる人が土地を好きになってくれたらなぁ、と思います。

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