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As Tsunami Robbed Life, It Also Robs Rite of Death

The New York Times
March 23, 2011

Because of the number of victims, families have had to bury their dead instead of cremating them, an important Japanese tradition.

HIGASHI-MATSUSHIMA, Japan – It was neither the place nor the time for a proper goodbye: not here, on a homely hilltop that used to house the city garbage incinerator. And not now, fully 12 days after a tsunami erased this town’s seacoast and forever sundered hundreds of families and friendships.

Yet on this raw, wind-whipped Wednesday afternoon, Fujimi and Ekuko Kimura watched as a procession of soldiers unloaded the coffin of Taishi Kimura, husband and son, from the back of an army truck, and laid it with 35 others in a narrow trench, partitioned into graves with pieces of plywood.

It was the rudest of funerals for a family already shouldering unbearable grief. It fell to the Kimuras – later, after the soldiers left – to turn a mass burial into a poignant and graceful farewell.

In Japan, it is not normal to bury the dead, much less to lay dozens side by side in a backhoe-dug furrow. Cremation is both nearly universal and an important rite in an elaborate funeral tradition deeply rooted in Buddhism.

Read the full article in The New York Times

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