A Buddhist burial in the rain for Japanese tsunami victims

March 26, 2011
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(At a funeral in Kassenuma town, Miyagi prefecture March 26, 2011/Carlos Barria)

Ten flimsy wooden coffins were laid on two sturdy rails at a hastily prepared cemetery of mostly mud as Keseunnuma began burying its dead from the tsunami that ripped apart the Japanese coastal city. Desperate municipalities such as Kesennuma have been digging mass graves, unthinkable in a nation where the deceased are almost always cremated and their ashes placed in stone family tombs near Buddhist temples. Local regulations often prohibit burial of bodies.

The number of dead in Kesennuma was 551 as of Saturday, far too many for local crematoriums that can typically manage about 10 bodies a day but are now facing shortages of kerosene. Another 1,448 in the city of about 74,000 are missing from the tsunami two weeks ago that has left more than 27,500 people dead or missing across Japan.

“This disaster has created a tsunami of tears,” said Shuko Kakayama, master of the Jifukuji Buddhist temple, which lost 300 members to the tsunami that also heavily damaged temple grounds.

burial 2

(Funeral in Kassenuma town, Miyagi prefecture March 26, 2011/Carlos Barria)

Kakayama, who presided over the funeral of one temple member and prayed for all souls laid to rest, said there was a time when Japan permitted burials. But the government has for decades sought cremations due to a lack of cemetery space in the densely populated country.

“If we are returning to the earth, then we are returning to nature,” Kakayama said.

Read the full story by Jon Herskovitz here.


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“Tsunami Survivor Adoption Program”
A tsunami slammed into Japan’s northeast coast on March 11, killing well over 10,000 people. The 1,000’s of survivors huddle in makeshift shelters. Food, clean water, medicine, toiletries, warmth, comfort, medical and trauma care and other essential supports for survival are in scant supply, in some places non-existent. They are in the darkest of dreams from which they cannot awake, haunted by the loss of loved ones, their familiar home which is in a pile of rubble scattered across a six-mile signature of ravaging horror…Whole generations of family have become tortured ghosts wandering the coastline of the Northwest, evaporating until the sun sets and rises again. At all times, survivors demonstrate impeccable conduct to the shocked world looking on – reminding them of their failings by contrast, inspiring them with new insight on the potential nobility of the human spirit…
It’s true: the government, the survivors, the ninky? dantai who provide disaster relief services faster than the government, the indescribably self-sacrificing workers (Tsun Tzu is the only name appropriate) combating the nuclear plant shambles to protect Mother Japan, and faint smatterings of the outside world community lend a helping hand. After all, in any confrontation to the reminder that we will each face a “final moment”, we are all members of the same family, the frail, evil but simultaneously wondrous and inspiring specie, Homo sapiens.
The code of jingi (justice and duty – where loyalty and respect are a way of life) is the essence of the Japanese people. Worldwide, nothing resembles it.
The multiple, escalating, compound disasters Japan faces are incomparable to any in history. They will survive, rebuild, even fortify beyond their past dignity as a people.
New strategies are needed, which is why I pen this blog. I ask every able-bodied Japanese citizen to reach out their individual hand and home to a survivor. Bring them into your home. Within your means, care for one or more survivors. Work collectively to establish a network of such volunteer homes, a transportation network to bring those survivors to their new “adopting home”. Greet them with love and kindness and nurturing support as you can. Do this as immediately as possible. New and great risk will beset them unless you act with aggressive action to make this possible and tangible. I beg you as a previous Japanese life which memory is alive within me, Kotoamatsukami. Blessings and hope and love and respect for you…

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