The time has come to choose a cemetery for my late father-in-law’s final resting place. This is kind of good news for me, as lately it’s been my job to carry the porcelain urn containing his bones to and from the various Buddhist ceremonies to mark his transition. While I’m honored to play such a central role in things, I’m also pretty clumsy and the whole time I’m petrified I’ll trip over a doorstep or something and commit the biggest faux pas of my life. I’m not happy watching him sit on that rickety coffee table while aftershocks from the 11 March quake continue to rattle around, either. To see him secured somewhere in concrete beneath granite would put my mind at ease.

Japanese graves

Japanese graves - names blurred because it felt better that way

I have to make a confession though: modern cemeteries do not thrill me. I find them bland, cookie-cutter places full of ostentatious stone monuments made by machine that people pay thousands of dollars for, and which are ignored by everyone other than the family concerned. One of those things, standing alone in the middle of an empty field, weathered by a century of storms and leaning at a precarious angle, fine. But a whole hundred square meter battery hen cage of the things, no emotional effect. I’ve made it clear to my wife that, should I die first, I want to be dressed in a clown suit and fired off a cruise liner into the ocean with a giant trebuchet. But I know they won’t do it for me. Funerals, burials, cremation, offerings and prayers are to satisfy the still-living and not the departed, no matter what everyone says. I’ll probably have a funeral just like everyone else’s with flowers and black suits and a stone with my name on it in a park full of others like it (maybe they’ll at least promise let me write the epitaph, and renege after I’m gone).

As far as I know my father-in-law had no such wishes and neither does anyone else in the family, so in the end we found a nice-enough place on a hillside, close enough to visit regularly. Because really that’s all it needs to be. Somewhere quiet-ish for people to keep a physical reminder of you and come to visit every so often. And as one of the still-living for whom this is really all for, I’ve always been grateful to have my deceased friends and relatives interred in decent places where I can honor their memories whether it’s what they would’ve wanted or not (in fact I’m damn sure some of them would not have wanted it).

I sat and watched while the guy showed us samples of granite, demonstrated the various shape and color combinations, and pointed out which plots were available. We chose one right near the edge with a view. It’ll be pretty lonely all by itself in the newer section, though I’m sure it won’t stay that way for long. Contracts were signed and prices discussed that made me even more determined to go through with my trebuchet idea, or maybe donate my body to science and gross out some first-year med students. No-one dares to scrimp on a stone memorial and land just ain’t cheap in Tokyo, even a square meter of it.

choices, choices

I can see why some people prefer to keep their loved ones’ remains at home, or scatter the ashes into the sea or in the goalsquare of a football pitch. As long as they’re cremated first, that is. It gives a personal touch that even a customized tombstone probably won’t and to me, a humble but personal touch is more valuable than the largest stone tower in the graveyard. But like people say to me when I tell them my own funeral plan, I’m probably in a minority there.

grave with MR2 tombstone

He probably wanted to be buried IN the MR2. But nice touch anyway