A Japanese Christian Funeral

Discussion in 'Missions / Witnessing / eVangelism' started by John of Japan, Jun 30, 2013.

  1. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    I have a funeral in the morning, and I thought it would be interesting to share how a Christian funeral takes place in Japan. So keep an eye out, since I'll be relating the details.

    Friday evening Tomiro called me saying his mother Katsu had passed away. One way in Japanese to say someone has died is to say, Tengoku ni ikimashita, "They went to Heaven." In this case it was literally true. Tomiro asked me to meet him at 10:00 Saturday morning at the funeral parlor.

    天国に行きました!
     
  2. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    I got there Saturday morning about 5 minutes early and Tomiro and the funeral director were waiting for me out front. Tomiro said, "Parking is around back," but the funeral director waved me into a reserved spot. As I backed in I noticed it said, "Reserved for Buddhist Priests." Hey, no problem, I don't mind using their spot! There were no places for Christian pastors. You have to remember that Christians, all groups together, are less than on per cent of the population here, so we're just a blip on the screen of most businesses.

    Tomiro and the funeral director naturally did most of the talking. Tomiro's brother-in-law Hirayama was there, who I had bought all our cars from since moving up here, so we passed the time in conversation for awhile. The whole negotiation took about an hour and a half! The table was a typical Japanese floor table, only about one foot high. Tomiro and the director sat on the floor on little cushions called zabuton, but they brought out a half height chair for me because of my knees, and I found one for Hirayama,

    My main task was to prevent any Buddhist ancestor worship from creeping into the ceremony. For example, I informed the funeral director that we would not do "flower offerings" to the spirit of the dead person. However, there could be flowers around the deceased as decorations and that would be fine. For his part, the director said, "I don't have any experience at a Christian funeral, so please direct it." Of course that was our plan all along!

    Sunday morning early I got a call from the director saying someone had sent a bowl of fruit, and would it be okay to have that with the flowers as a decoration. I allowed that, but we have to be careful in such cases, since the Buddhists give fruit offerings to the dead spirit. Sure enough, later on after the cremation someone set some of the fruit in front of the picture of Katsu, the dead mother in offering to her. Nothing I could do about that!
     
  3. Scarlett O.

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    Thank you John for sharing this. I find it very interesting. I also find it to be greatly sorrowful about the statistics you've shared about Japan's Christian population. I'm in prayer for Japan today and will tell others what you've said about the numbers.
     
  4. Tom Bryant

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    John,
    Thanks for sharing this. It's especially interesting to see how you keep the Gospel message unmixed even in the little things with Buddhism.
     
  5. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    The figure includes anyone who calls themselves Christians: Baptist, Methodist, JW, Mormon, Catholic, etc. This is after over 150 years of Protestant missions! Compare to over 40% Christian in Korea just over the Sea of Japan.

    Most people don't realize that almost all Muslim countries have a higher percentage of Christians than Japan. It's a real challenge, let me tell you! But we do praise the Lord for each precious soul saved. Mr. Ushiro trusted Christ a couple of months ago, and is faithful. I'll go visit him for a Bible study this afternoon.
     
  6. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    It's a real challenge! Many long time Japanese Christians are uninformed about Buddhism in their culture. Recently I had a Japanese believer tell me that the "Bon Festival" dance is just a harvest dance. He wouldn't believe me when I said it was an offering to dead souls coming back from Hell, even when I showed him that fact in a reference book. "The scholars are just saving face," he said.
     
  7. Steadfast Fred

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    John,

    Thanks for sharing a minute portion of the culture of the Japanese. It is fascinating. I am sure it is a challenge to present to those believers the truths (and deceptions) behind their traditions.
     
  8. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Sunday evening at 6:00 we had the zenyashiki, or "Previous Evening Ceremony." This is called tsuuyashiki, "All Night Ceremony," in Buddhist funeral ceremonies. It's a time for the family to get together, think about their loved one, and have a meal together. We kept it short. It was good to see a number of family members who could not make it to the funeral the next day. One of Katsu's brothers was there, an interesting old guy all the way from Tokyo, I believe it was. Three of the family stayed with Tomiro right in the funeral home, where there are rooms prepared for lodgers.

    The coffin was a simple white box, since it would carry the body during the cremation. However, everything else was very fancy and formal. (By the way, during the Saturday morning meeting, we were right there with the body in the same room!) They don't embalm, but they do keep the body in ice when it is not on display to preserve it until the embalming.

    I led the zenyashiki with "Amazing Grace," for which I had passed out song sheets from our new hymnbook, which I much prefer to the old classical Japanese hymnbook used by most churches. Many Japanese are familiar with this beautiful hymn because it has been used in TV commercials and the like. It was a blessing to see lost Buddhists singing it and trying to comprehend the words!

    After the hymn I read a brief testimony Matt. 11:28-30 then gave a brief testimony from our friendship with Katsu, saying that Jesus had called her to Himself both in salvation and in death, and that she had believed in Him. I then prayed and we ended the zenyashiki in under 15 minutes. After that we had a fabulous Japanese meal which I will describe next time.
     
  9. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    It's often hard for them to believe something about their culture and religion coming from a foreigner!
     
  10. Bob Alkire

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    John, I believe that is true of most people. I'm in prayer for you, family and work that God has you doing.
    Thanks for telling us about this, it would have never entered my mind.
     
  11. Mexdeaf

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    This is such a nice break from the usual stuff that goes on here. Thank you for blessing us with your presence and for your continued labors for the Lord in Japan.
     
  12. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Thanks for the prayers. I'm glad it entered my mind! :type:
     
  13. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    May God make us all a blessing to others here!
     
  14. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    By the way, speaking of food, one thing I forgot to mention about Saturday's meeting was that it was almost noon when we finished, so Tomiro offered to take me out for lunch. We've done ramen noodles together, and sometimes he'll take the wife and me to a katsu place. This is a breaded pork cutlet, delicious. I like katsudon, which is a katsu on a bed of rice, with egg and other goodies on top of the rice.

    Anyway, the only restaurant I knew about near there was a MacDonald's, which is pretty close to an American Mickey Ds. I asked Tomiro if he would go for that and he said, "Sure, I'll eat that. Isn't that the thing with meat in between bread?" Which shows how traditional he normally is. Japanese cuisine for Tomiro! But he got adventurous and tried it with me. We both had a double cheeseburger, with fries on the side and Coke Zero for me, ice coffee for him. He was impressed at how popular it was and how many families with kids were there. We enjoyed the meal and the fellowship together.

    For more about Tomiro, I gave his testimony and his father Unomatsu's previously on the BB here: http://www.baptistboard.com/showthread.php?t=47056&highlight=Unomatsu&page=6
     
  15. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    After the zenyashiki on Sunday evening, we all went upstairs to an "upper room" prepared for us. Everything was traditional Japanese: the room was floored with grass tatami mats; the dining tables were low to the floor; the guests all sat in the traditional way on square cushions on the floor called zabuton. This means "sitting futons," with the original Japanese word for futon being a thin mattress for sleep, somewhat different from it has come to mean in English.

    Interestingly enough, this is apparently similar to how the Jews ate in the time of Jesus. When it refers to Christ and others eating a meal, the Greek word is anakeimai, which means to recline. So the Jews would have a low table at which they somewhat reclined, perhaps on mats, rather than sitting on chairs. Therefore, the famous painting of “The Last Supper” gives a wrong view of the event.

    Fortunately for me and my arthritic knees, Tomiro arranged for me to have a half-height chair with a back to it. Then he asked me to thank the Lord for the food. So I asked all the Buddhists to bow their heads and close their eyes, and said a simple prayer. Buddhists pray too, but only at an altar or idol at the temple, and then they clap their hands to get the attention of the spirit, then just pray for selfish things. They do not give thanks for food.

    A very nice young Japanese lady named Miss Yagi was our server (though all the food was already ordered and prepared). The next day after the funeral she also went with us to the crematorium and served us lunch there. She offered cold drinks to everyone, and brought me two small bottles of Pepsi Cola when Tomiro told her to. As you can tell, Tomiro takes good care of his pastor and pastor's wife!

    Then we dug in. Tomiro made sure the beef was right in front of the foreigners, Patty and me--thin, small slices of roast with a special sauce and some potatoes. There was a delicious Japanese soup; a Chinese dish similar to egg drop soup but much better; a large platter of sashimi (raw fish with no rice); a large platter of raw fish sushi (sushi is a rice dish which may or may not have raw fish), the ubiquitous bowl of delicious “sticky rice,” and many other goodies. Tomiro passed the plate of sushi, which in this case was mostly raw fish with a couple of fish egg sushi also, and I gladly took one my favorite dishes, salmon sushi.

    At one point Tomiro chose a little dish and passed it to me, saying, "It looks like it has ham on it." The little piece of ham actually turned out to be a very thin slice of tuna sashimi on a bed of tiny slices of tako (octopus) seasoned strongly with wasabi! I enjoyed it, but paid for my folly with a bout of my skin ailment, rosacea, of which one trigger is spicy foods.

    For dessert there were various fruits and some little cakes--the only part of the meal that wasn't Asian. Afterwards I sat back with a sigh and a cup of that strong Japanese coffee, and gave a contented sigh. Life is good as a missionary to Japan!
     
  16. Mexdeaf

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    You know you're a missionary... when you fall in love with the cuisine of the country God has called you to.

    I feel the same way about Mexican food. Looking forward to Deaf Camp in Mexico in about a week. Always good food and the fellowship isn't bad either.
     
  17. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Anyone called to be a missionary who turns down God's gracious call misses such blessings! \

    [​IMG]
     
  18. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    Before I describe the funeral itself, let me share with you about Katsu, Tomiro's mother who went to Heaven. By the way, in Japan we don't usually call anyone by their first name unless we are very close to them. Usually we say their family name with San (meaning Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms.), as in Tanaka San. But I'm using the first names of the family here for their privacy.

    After Tomiro trusted Christ as Savior some thirteen years ago or so, we met his parents. They lived together in a small Japanese house, no front yard and very little back yard, though this is the northern island of Hokkaido where there is more room than elsewhere. They were nice folk, and very open to their son's Christianity. Of course we visited and witnessed to them. I remember in particular making a little book especially for her, bound with our plastic comb binder, full of verses about God's love, with a tract I had written at the end, inviting her to trust Christ.

    It may have been that little book which led her to salvation. Some time after that Tomiro came to me with a shocked look on his face saying that his mother wanted to get rid of their Buddhist altar! That's a real sign of salvation in Japan. The altar is passed down from generation to generation, and is a prized possession. Even if a family is only nominally Buddhist like this one was, they take good care of it. Great problems can arise when the eldest son, who receives the parents' altar, becomes a Christian and wants to get rid of it.

    Not too long after that, and also after Tomiro's father got saved in the hospital (see the link at the beginning of the thread), they both entered an old folks home. Though we had talked it over with Tomiro, they never got to come to church!

    We visited them often in the old folks home, and they were always so glad to see us. Katsu had a servant's heart, and would always get up and tell us she was going to serve us ocha (green tea). Of course then the workers at the facility would say, "No, no, that's our job Katsu!"

    She went downhill much before her husband did. After she was confined to her room, I remember visiting her and hearing her say, "I want to do things for people, but I can't in here." I told her she could pray for her family even there, and that would be a big help to them. Her face lighted up and she said, "I could do that!"

    Eventually she was completely bedridden, and her senile dementia would not allow her to recognize anyone, even her loved ones. Just a few weeks before her Homegoing, Tomiro came to me with a worried look and said, "The people at the old folks home tell me they can't take care of her anymore, and I have to move her. She's on a waiting list, so it will take some time." Little did he know that she would certainly move, but it would be to Heaven instead of another facility on earth!
     
  19. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    The funeral was on Monday morning at 10:00. Patty and I got there a half hour early to get set up. We tested the sound system, put programs and song sheets on the chairs, got out my classical guitar since Mrs. Takasugi had to teach and couldn't be there to play the piano for us, and generally checked everything out. I had made the programs on the church PC according to Tomiro's directions, and copied off the songs he wanted us to sing.

    Tomiro and the other relatives drifted in by 9:45. We had been told by the funeral director that the crematorium would be busy that day and we should make an effort to finish early to avoid the rush. You know the old joke: people were just dying to get in! And a dead pet wanted in, too! (More about that later.) Tomiro asked me to keep the message short, too, so I reluctantly agreed, since you can give the Gospel in a short period of time. Since everyone was there (only about eight relatives) we started at 9:50 and were done in record time.

    First, we sang "Amazing Grace" as a congregational number, and all of the Buddhists were able to chime in, believe it or not! We use a new independent Baptist songbook in modern colloquial Japanese rather than the old standard songbooks which are in classical Japanese and very hard to understand.

    I had a word of prayer, then Patty and I sang "What a Day That Will Be" as a special number. I then preached briefly from John 14:1-3, telling how Katsu was now in Heaven, a wonderful place with no pain, sorrow, sickness or loneliness, and told them how she had told me she would pray for her family in the old folks' home. We then all sang "Rock of Ages," and then it was time for a testimony.

    In a Buddhist funeral many acts of idolatry take place, such as offering flowers to the spirit of the dead person, represented by a large photo. Various relatives and friends will face the photo and talk directly to the dead person, seeking to comfort the spirit which is thought to be still hanging around, sometimes for years, before going on to oblivion (or Hell or Paradise, depending on the Buddhist sect).

    In our funeral, Tomiro gave a testimony about his mother as the eldest son. He informed everyone about her passing and in general honored her as his parent. After this we had a final viewing of the body. Each person was allowed to approach the casket and quietly and respectfully honor their loved one. Then we prepared for the trip to the crematory.
     
  20. John of Japan

    John of Japan
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    The trip to the crematorium was uneventful. We all got on a very nice bus for the 20 minute trip and enjoyed our beautiful Hokkaido scenery as we traveled out into the countryside where the facility is. The casket rode under us in a special compartment where the luggage compartment normally would be.

    When we arrived, the bus pulled up to the entrance where about five crematorium staff members met us with a low bow. Off to the right was an unusual sight, a Shinto priest in full, pure white regalia, holding a white box. What is unusual about this is that it is normally the Buddhist priests who conduct funeral, and the Shintoists do the traditional weddings. Here is a website with a good explanation and some photos, except that this priest's regalia was much fancier and even the headpiece was white, probably for ceremonial purposes: http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/shinto.shtml

    We all filed into the huge main room, and were instructed to line up on a black line to await the coffin. I noticed that the elderly brother of Katsu didn't have a place, so I invited him to stand where we were, then Patty and I faded back to give the family preference. The coffin was wheeled in past us towards the crematory, the actual furnace where Katsu's body would be cremated. Some of my readers my object to cremation for a Christian for various reasons, but the truth is that in Japan it is almost impossible to be interred. There are no arrangements for interment on our whole island I have heard of rumors of such graveyards down on Honshu, but I only know personally of one, at the Baptist Mid-Missions camp down in Fukushima Prefecture.

    We then followed the coffin to the crematory, where we all paused in a small room. The man in charge then asked if we had any ceremony to perform at that time, and I suggested a prayer, something I had done in a previous funeral, but Tomiro nixed it, so we then watched while the staff member wheeled the casket into what looked like a little elevator of some kind, or at least a chamber where the workers would handle it. In an older crematory there is a little window where family members can watch the process, believe it or not, but this is a brand new facility which had no such window.

    In the meantime, the Shinto priest had walked in with a staff member to the next crematory over, holding his white box. Then he launched into some weird chanting, a ceremony of some kind. All I can think of is that the box probably contained a family pet, maybe even the priest's family pet, and the family wanted their beloved pet to be cremated. However, there is another possibility. A missionary with our board once got an angry phone call from a Shintoist irate at having received a Gospel tract. He said that now he would have to pay for a special ceremony to have the priest get rid of it!

    After this we were given a room number where we could have lunch as we waited, since the process would take 1 1/2 to 2 hours. More of the crematorium story next time.
     

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