Death of a Farmer

This morning there was a funeral at the compound next door. We heard a few days ago that the grandfather had died. I didn’t even know there was a grandfather. Apparently he has been in the hospital the whole time we’ve lived here.  Three or four generations live in the house next to ours, but I’d only ever seen one man over there, and when I first moved in, I was introduced to my mother-in-law’s cohort and no one else. My mother-in-law handled neighborhood relations, receiving grannies and their offerings in her entryway, o rmaking the rounds with the cookies I brought back from America herself. The younger generations around here don’t mingle much. And though I’ve greeted the younger neighbors when they’ve gone past with their dog or small child, they’ve never stopped to chat about the weather or anything else. I don’t even know their given names.

In spite of this, I feel a certain intimacy with them. I can hear their doorbell ring as I sit at my computer. I hear the child’s squeaky slippers as he runs around the compound. And they probably know quite a bit about our lives as well. (The grannies do talk!)

I must confess, I don’t really know how to behave at times like this. I’m sure that there is a phrase like “I’m sorry for your loss,” but I don’t know what it is in Japanese.” And although I feel that I should have helped out, I think I would have gotten in the way. I feel that my presence would have been conspicuous. In the past, my mother-in-law would have been the family rep at a neighborhood wake and funeral, but this time it was my husband. I went over with the neighborhood women (the ones my mother-in-law’s age) the day after the death. I asked my mother-in-law’s closest neighborhood friend what I should say. “Don’t say anything,” she said. “Just bow your head.”  And that’s what I did.


6 thoughts on “Death of a Farmer

  1. I must confess, I am dreading our first funeral here. It’s such a sensitive time, I wouldn’t want to add to the upset by getting something wrong. Next time you see your neighbours and exchange greetings, you could say, “Go shuusho sama desu”.

  2. Brings back a horrible memory, 5 years ago, of taking my then-9-year-old son to the Tokyo funeral of one of his little classmates who had died of a sudden fever complication. On top of the overwhelming sense of loss and unbearable sadness, I was obsessed with the possibility of making some unforgivable cultural faux pas…..


  3. Thanks, Angela. I’ll try to remember that phrase.

    My son went to the wake of one of his teachers last year, and I suggested that he wear his school uniform, but my husband said his regular clothes would be okay. Well, guess what? When they arrived, all the other kids were wearing their school uniforms. My husband just handed over an envelope with condolence money and left. So even Japanese people make mistakes.

  4. Angela, I put your phrase into Japanese to English translation and it doesn’t translate to anything??
    Then I put the single word shuusho and that didn’t translate either.

  5. I think it is one of the hardest events when you live abroad as it is a time where you don’t want to upset but really have no idea what to say.

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