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Happy Death Anniversary

This invitation to a death anniversary arrived in yesterday’s mail.

I love the idea of death anniversaries. In Japan, people don’t forget all about you after you die. One year after, they throw a party. Family and friends are invited, a plate of your favorite foods and a cup of your favorite refreshment is set out on the head table in front of a flattering picture of you, and toasts are made to your memory. As people begin to enjoy themselves, they share fond stories about you and maybe cry a little, since you’ve only been gone a year. But as time goes by and people gather for your third and seventh and thirteenth etc. death anniversaries, the sadness is replaced by good memories, catching up on family gossip, and generally carrying the circle of life forward.

The other thing I really like about Japanese funeral and burial customs is that your ashes are buried in a family crypt along with those who have gone before you. Not only does it seem like a less lonely way for your dusty remains to spend eternity, your grave will still be visited and spruced up at O-bon by generations who never knew you, but who’ve carried your genes on into the future. Kind of nice, don’t you think?

The photo above is of the invitation I just received. It required some advice from my Japanese teacher on how to fill out the RSVP properly, because not only do you need to write your name and address and the number of people who will attend, you have to cross out any honorific references to yourself and replace the humble references to the host with an honorific character on the pre-addressed return card.

Jonelle Patrick is the author of  four novels set in Tokyo

A young woman dressed as a Gothic Lolita is found dead in a car with two strangers. But the more Yumi Hata learns about her friend’s death, the more she’s convinced it was murder…read more

Jonelle Patrick View All

Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!

4 thoughts on “Happy Death Anniversary Leave a comment

  1. >you have to cross out any honorific references to yourself and replace the humble references to the host with an honorific character

    For example…?

  2. For example, on the reply card, you have to circle the characters for “attending” or “not attending” but first cross out the honorific character put in front of those words. The host wrote it that way to refer to you, the honored guest, but you must reply as the humble invitee. The return envelope is pre-addressed to the host, so you have to cross out the humble character the host attached to her own name and replace it with “sama,” the most honorable form of address.

    • The whole process of dealing with death here in Japan really makes sense to me. There’s no beating around the bush about the loved one being gone: after the Buddhist service (lots of chanting, some incense burning) the family waits around for the body to be cremated, then takes turns picking the pieces of bone from the ashes with special metal chopsticks and putting them in the urn. It’s sad. Really sad. But you all take turns and realize that there are others still left in this world who you care about and who care about you. Then at the death anniversaries, you remember the departed person while strengthening ties with those still alive. The customs match our need to mourn and then accept and continue to live.

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