Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...we've all got to go sometime and if you kick the bucket in Nagoya, chances are your last port of call, before the Pearly Gates or the fires of Hell (if you believe in all that nonsense), will be the vast, industrial crematorium near Yagoto.
The Yagato crematorium, near an equally giant cemetery, processes corpses in about 40 minutes. Bodies are brought in from the funeral ceremony and placed on a steel tray. A crematorium attendant, dressed in black, presses a button and the tray, laden with the corpse, travels into a torpedo tube-sized oven. The attendant, most likely a member of Japan's buraku underclass, doffs his black baseball cap, bows and presses another switch. The fires inside the oven ignite.
The mourners are lead into a separate room and await a call over the intercom when the body has been fully incinerated. The head is always the last part of the body to be completely reduced by the licking flames. Family and friends return as the tray is pulled from the oven. The corpse, reduced to ashes, resembles a cigarette left to burn in an ashtray and still radiates considerable heat.
Close relatives pick at the ashes (ikotsu) with (often uneven) chopsticks and place the remains in an urn or several urns. The most important piece of the body to include is the Adam's apple (nodobotoke).
The family then return home in a different direction to that they have arrived in - a superstition to throw off the deceased's spirit from attempting to return home and haunting the family. On arrival back at base, salt is thrown on the mourners, in another superstitious rite, to cleanse the lingering aura of death and a solemn meal is often then eaten.
The ashes of the deceased are usually divided after collection and kept in a household shrine (butsudan) at the family home and at a grave in the cemetery.
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Friday, October 31, 2008