The first time I explored a Japanese department store, I was excited to see that they had an entire department devoted to clothes in my favorite color: black! Then a Japanese friend explained: it was the mofuku department. Funeralwear. Yes, in the Land of Extreme Specialization, people maintain a whole set of clothes and accessories specifically designed not to break any funeral rules!
And what might those rules be, I nervously asked. Isn’t it okay just to wear something respectfully black, avoiding, of course, thigh-revealing miniskirts and plunging necklines? What makes funeralwear different?
Well, for one thing, proper funeral clothing can’t have one stitch or button that isn’t black. It has to be black in every way. Even the cloth has to be super black, dyed twice, of possible.
Black stockings, black shoes, black handbag, and black gloves if you’re wearing nail polish.
Oh, and make sure that bag and shoes aren’t made of leather – most people live as Shinto practitioners, but they die as Buddhists. Because Buddhism prohibits killing other living things, it’s in somewhat poor taste to show up at the ceremony with dead animals on your feet or looped over your arm. Of course, you’re supposed to be so focused on mourning the Dear Departed that you don’t give any thought to jewelry and makeup. The only exception is pearls. You’re allowed to wear one strand, but not two. Two will double your grief.
Men wear black suits with white shirts, and plain black ties. And black socks. Don’t forget the black socks. This is not the time for kneeling in front of the incense urn and displaying your favorite argyles, no matter how fetching they may be.
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“Hauntingly beautiful, an instant immersion into feudal, wartime and modern Japan.” —Melissa MacGregor, author of The Curious Steambox Affair
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!