There are a number of ceremonies to celebrate important stages of human life like weddings and funerals. Not only in Japan, but most probably everywhere those ceremonies are heavily expensive. People tend to think, "Let specialists perform them not to discredit ourselves". The natural thing would be for the relatives and the local communities to perform in a friendly atmosphere weddings and funerals, but they cannot be realized anymore without experts and manual textbooks. This book reviews the history of ceremonial events and searches for new future rituals.
Upon hearing the word, ceremonies for weddings and funerals, many people will think of troublesome traditions and customs. Nevertheless, according to the author of the book, basically the present celebration of such events is only about 100 years old. During the 60s, at the time of high economic growth and later, during the 90s, when the bubble economic boom crashed, big changes occurred. Ceremonial rituals considered to be traditional and customary changed naturally, as a result of new legislation and social and economic changes, or in many cases professionals changed them.
That is the case of funerals, for instance. Actually 99% of burials in Japan are by cremation, but during the Edo period the dead were buried in the ground and in 1896 cremations were only up to 27%. Lately, in 1955, they reached only 54%. As for weddings, those performed according to Shinto rituals, considered to be the traditional practice, started around 1900 in the occasion of the wedding ceremony of Prince Yoshihito, who later became Emperor Taisho and the Empress Sadako. After the promulgation of the Meiji Civil Law, the custom begun to write on the tombs: "so and so family ancestors".
In 1960 specialists and manual textbooks made their first appearance. Again and again the occasion was the wedding of the present Emperor Akihito with the Empress Michiko. The interpretation given is that the center of society started to switch from a traditional regional society into an industrial one and, as a result, weddings and funerals changed becoming show ceremonies performed by specialists.
Then, all kinds of weddings and funerals multiplied since the collapse of the bubble economy. On one hand, an extraordinary increase of chapels were built next to wedding halls and on the other, weddings according to Shinto rituals were reinstated, Guest Houses are rented for weddings and the number of wedding ceremonies in a foreign country taking along relatives and close friends are on the increase.
Funerals of all kinds and cost are common. There are those performed by specialists at a cost of about 3 million yen, civil funerals organized by local governments costing about 1 million yen and family funerals with close relatives and friends. There is a variety of tombs also, like those combining both families of husband and wife as a symbol of just one-child actual families, or the spreading of bones and ashes into the sea, rivers or mountains. People sometimes do not build a tomb and instead they dig a hole into the soil to place the ashes there and plant a tree on it. It looks as if there is no anymore anything like "average" or "ordinary" in our times.
Proceeding further on, the author brings forward a number of "non ordinary" cases, like real marriages keeping their own family names that are not officially registered, same sex marriages, civil and welfare funerals for those receiving welfare aid, funerals for unknown (homeless) deceased persons and so on. Rituals are symbols of styles of life and since there are a number of "non ordinary" styles of life, it would be natural to use "non ordinary" ceremonies as well.
To think about ceremonial rituals gives us an opportunity to think of men-women relationships, of family values and of our attitudes towards life and death. In spite of it this book is not a too serious one. The author, experienced in editing manuals for ceremonials, narrates humorously in conformity with the facts various inside stories of weddings and funerals. By no means does he speak lightly of traditions and customs. But his point is that, customs and traditions change with the times and so there is nothing wrong with new changes from now on. Let's think of ceremonial rituals that fit us better.
For the first time in a long time I enjoyed reading a profitable book that benefited me.
(Shibata Yukinori)
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