Friday, August 15, 2008

Returning to the graves

For the last 3 days the ancestors have been to visit. During their stay they are given offerings in the family altar and although the contents of these offerings seem to differ from region to region and even from house to house, according to my mother in law there are always 5 different plates of food given at our house (I need to take notes!). These 5 plates represent one of each of the basic elements of traditional Japanese meals - miso soup, pickles, beans, a "simmered dish" and of course rice. There is also an additional plate of rice cakes which the ancestors take back to their graves and a bowl of noodles, which represent the strings with which they will carry the rice cakes. During their stay these dishes remain in the altar and are removed as the ancestors are piggy backed back to the grave. The way to the grave is lit with candles and the rice cakes taken and given while praying for the safe return of the ancestors to the grave.
Coming from a country where we often don't even visit the graves of our ancestors more than a few times in our lives it is often hard for me to come to terms with the strong beliefs associated with the spirits etc. here. But, although it is different it is a special way to remember those who have died and we will welcome them all back again next year!

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