Sunday, August 09, 2009


THE DAYS OF THE DEAD


In America as I recall, the dead don't come back to visit the living in any organized way but rather choose their own occasions, which is very much in the American tradition, now that I think of it. In Japan, by contrast, where things often seem supersystematic, the dead all come back in the middle of August, when it's convenient for the living to take a few days off.

During these days of the dead, called obon, when the living entertain throngs from the afterlife, stores close and offices are at half-staff, everyone being busy honoring the dear departed because so many more are passing away to ancestry every year that each obsequy must accommodate a greater spectral population, thereby diluting the effect on individual spirits, who this year begin their clamor for due attention on Wednesday August 14, when they will walk through dreams, tap shoulders in the dark, knock on walls and generally get it on in a posthumous way; and in the corridors of merely earthly business, where commuters both dead and alive have spent so many decades, there will be a palpable and welcome absence, for the dead have returned not for commerce, nor for tourism, but to mingle with relatives, drink some sake, party a bit, have some rice crackers, whatever the living will offer, for the dead will eat anything after a year without a nibble.

So the living all visit their ancestral graves and ladle water over the stone and leave a drink and some flowers and snacks and burn some incense, say some prayers for the ancestors, ask their intercession in the matter of say a red Ferrari, sometimes ancestors can swing such things if they have any pull on the far shore, you do see some people driving Ferraris in this life (are there Ferraris after death?), though the ancestors in their wisdom seem to know it doesn't make much sense to have a Ferrari in Japan, where there are no straightaways of any length and the standard speed limit is about 40kph, and where the police not long ago arrested one of the living for courting death in a red Ferrari by driving nearly 240kph on an expressway, a record for Japan, and prime-time front-page news throughout the land because generally not much fast living happens while the dead are around.

If you do see a Ferrari it's most likely just sitting there rumbling very expensively in the long lines of traffic that grow and grow, particularly during the days of the dead because there is clearly a strong connection between death and expressways, where the living sit entombed for hours, idling - revving - idling with the air conditioning on, looking out the windows trying to fathom the reason. The dead seem to enjoy the nostalgia, for it happens every year around this time, the dead traveling freely while the living edge forward on the roadway, impatient to reach the toll booth, though everyone gets there eventually.

2 comments:

Orandon Marie said...

I have certainly felt this! Only here in America, we're calling it The Michael Jackson Story! ; o)

Thank you for a beautiful blog, and for sharing your gorgeous spirit. I was originally out here searching for mushrooms...

Cheers from Seattle!
O.M.

Sandy said...

curious... I'm from Seattle, too, but not looking for mushrooms... just check in now and then because I like to read your thoughts and think about them.

Yes, like the dead, we all get there eventually... thanks for another provoking read!