August. Summer is well under way and it won't be too much longer before school is back in session. I'm definitely looking forward to getting out of the office and back out there, doing what I enjoy most in this job: assisting kids in learning and experiencing another language and culture.
We have been planning to head to New Zealand at Christmas time. In order to go overseas, Mika needed to update hers and Eddi's passports, and Maya needed one as well. I took the day off on Wednesday to go with my family to Nakamura to try and sort this out.
Getting a passport when you have a foreign surname is difficult enough because of the difference between actual spelling and katakana romanisation. There needs to be a link somewhere; a reference. And when you spell your daughter's name differently in English than its hiragana to romaji equivalent, it just adds to the bureaucratic nightmare.
Despite spending a good deal of the morning in N-town, we are still waiting even now - five days later - for confirmation of everything having gone through. The link that we provided - my "Gaijin card" - has not yet been confirmed as an official connection between the actual spelling of my surname and the romanisation of its katakana counterpart here in Japan.
Our planned trip is still four months away. My family's passports will come through eventually, so we are not worried at all. Everything always works out, given enough time.
I was "trying" to sell my car for quite a while - basically, ever since getting the shaken (vehicle inspection certificate) renewed at the start of June. When I say trying, I wasn't really putting in a great deal of effort. I had a sign on my car, had posted it two or three times to the Kochi JET message board, and had mentioned it around the place.
It wasn't until we decided to really pray and I made up fliers and we decided to advertise it in the town newsletter, that we found a buyer - miraculously. See, I didn't get a chance to print the flyers, and we didn't even have to advertise it in the news. It was truly an answer to pray that someone local approached us with great interest towards buying the car.
And so, last weekend - just days after praying and starting to take real action - I sold my car. One less burden, and just one step closer to making this holiday happen. God blesses us at the right time, always.
Now, we have all but purchased our airline tickets. We found the ideal flights (direct both ways, and at good times of the day to allow for domestic travel at both ends), and will pay for our tickets today. Everything is going ahead because we trusted in God, and allowed his timing and blessings to lead the way for us.
Early Thursday morning, Mika's maternal grandfather died. He was 91 years old and had been in hospital for about 18 months. I only knew him as a stroke victim; the old man lying in a hospital bed. Being non-Japanese wasn't the only thing that made me stand out during the family proceedings over the weekend: I didn't know Mika's grandfather as everyone else in the family did, with their entire lives a part of his.
On Friday, I took the day off in bereavement leave. Mika had a lot to sort out - especially with travelling to get appropriate attire for that night - and so I was able to look after Maya for the four hours that she was away during the day.
On Friday night, we had otsuya (formal "o"). Tsuya is a pre-funeral ceremony, where people can pay their respects to the dead. We went to the funeral home, where most of the extended family gathered. Kira ojiisan's casket sat at the front, decorated with various icons, and there was a huge display of flowers behind.
A buddhist monk came and sat between us and the casket, performing some sort of ritual. He chanted and rang a bell and the deceased's children and their spouses went up, one at a time, to pay their respects. Incense burned as we sat in black; a sombre occasion. A number of people had small circles of prayer beads that they held both during tsuya and the funeral.
After the small ceremony, there was eating and drinking. Mika's relative like to drink, as I found out over the weekend. It's quite sad really, how much alcohol people feel they need to imbibe. :(
The funeral was the following day. It was like an extension of tsuya the previous evening. More people showed up and more family members went up to pay their respects, as their names were called. We went up together as a family as the monk continued to chant, hit a metal bowl that rang like a bell, and beat a hollow item that thumped like a drum.
The funeral ceremony lasted about an hour. Many people came up to a small table that had been set up between family and the rest of the visitors - more distant relatives and friends. They would take a pinch of something and add it to a bowl - possibly incense, as it began to smoke more, the more that was added.
When everything was done, the casket was brought out to stand in the centre, completely open. Everyone was able to gather around and add flowers and other items, which were arranged around the body. When it was done, the lid was replaced and a whole lot of items and tall saplings decorated with various coloured banners and lanterns and such were brought out. They were distributed amongst 22 family members and the monk - Mika carried a basket of fruit - and everyone walked around the coffin a few times, the monk leading. Men wore woven straw baskets on their heads, women wore white cloths draped over their heads and Mika's brother shook a basket on a sapling, filled with confetti.
The procession went out of the funeral home and the casket was loaded into a hearse, a gold and black shrine incorporated into the vehicle - very fancy. We got into our cars and followed the hearse to the crematorium.
It was my first visit to a crematorium. The operator explained that it would take about an hour and a half to complete the process of cremation. A small shrine was set up in front of the cremator and everyone placed sticks of incense into small pots of sand as the monk chanted some more. The baskets and white cloths were collected and we all went into the waiting area, where we ate a rather substantial meal as we waited.
When it was done, we all went into the preparation room, where Mika's grandfather's remains sat. It was a truly amazing sight. There were some whole bones and most of the skull sitting there and the whole room simply smelled of heat - like a hot iron. Nothing of the coffin remained: just discoloured ash amongst the white bones and pieces of bone.
Everyone was able to put the cremains into the urn and the technician crushed some of the larger ones. At the end, the jaw and skull were placed on the top and the urn was closed and placed inside a box, which in turn was covered with a decorative covering.
We all returned to Mika's grandmother's place and people ate (and draaaank) more. I wasn't hungry until everyone else had left, leaving the immediate family to clean up and spend time together. The urn had been placed on a small shrine that is set up in one of the family rooms.
On Saturday night, we went to the K-town bridge to watch a 40 minute fireworks display. Not bad for a small town.
All in all, it was a busy weekend, but very family orientated. It was my first experience of a Japanese funeral and gave me more insight into a typical Kochi family get together.
We were all pretty tired by yesterday, which consisted of church, a church lunch, a meeting with the guest speaker, and then spending the rest of the afternoon and evening at Mika's grandmother's place again.
Onward, to another week in the office!