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Attending A Japanese Funeral

Patricia Sullivan

Considering the number of different cultures in the world, it makes sense that burial rites would vary. Here, a young Japanese who lives in the U.S. wrote about attending a Japanese funeral . Here's an interesting excerpt:

I find this to be the most interesting, if not the most disturbing part of a Japanese funeral. Maybe it's my western upbringing, or maybe everyone else also has their silent reservations about picking the bones of the dead. When we entered the private room, a large tray was waiting for us in the middle of the room holding the ashes of the body. While all the flesh, the entire casket, flowers, and most other contents had burned down to fine ash, the skeletal structure of the body was still intact and warm (you could feel the heat radiating from the tray). Looking carefully in the ashes, one could identify small nails from the casket or pieces of the watch that was burned with the body... The representative then handed out several pairs of mismatched chopsticks (one wood, one bamboo) for us to pick the bones to place inside the urn. If you ever wondered why it's taboo to eat with mismatched chopsticks, this is why. He instructed us to pick from the feet first so that the body will be upright in the urn. We each picked a bone, placed it in the urn, and then passed off the chopsticks to the next person.

By Patricia Sullivan  |  October 15, 2007; 1:35 PM ET
Categories:  Patricia Sullivan  
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There are numerous chopstick-related taboos in Japan. All seem to be associated with death.

For example, it's never good to pass food from one person's chopsticks to another person's chopsticks. It is also taboo to stand chopsticks upright in a bowl of food, because this is how offerings are made to the dead . The other taboo, which is mentioned in the story, concerns mismatched chopsticks.

Doing any of the above when in Japan (and in other parts of East Asia) will immediately draw gasps of shock. I also remember being told that it's unlucky to do those taboo things at the dinner table.

Posted by: Eric | October 15, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Wow, who knew? Thanks, Eric.

Posted by: Pat Sullivan | October 15, 2007 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Ok, so that explains the disposable chopsticks in the little paper sleeves. Thanks for an amazing read.

Posted by: Mary Alice | October 18, 2007 4:30 PM | Report abuse

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