By Billy Hammond (Copyright AELS)

Some of you who come from Japanese-American heritage families who are reading this might recall black and white funeral photos taken outside a Buddhist temple with all those in attendance included in the picture. You might even still have them among your grandparents and great-grandparents effects.

 

There were many of those photos stored in white muslin bags at my grandparents house and I still recall having been included in a number of them.

 

My theory on the funeral photos is that they served as a photographic record of those attending the funeral so that the attendance and monetary gift (kōden, or incense [condolence] money) could be reciprocated later on when someone or someone from the family of the attendee passed on. In spite of a record of the kōden collected being kept and given to the family after the funeral, many old folks had very little schooling in Japan and that, combined with the fact that Japan was still using the system of old kanji (kyūkanji) with a huge number of characters, made the kōden record difficult to read and prone to error. The photograph solved this problem through facial recognition – one look at the picture and the family knew who had come to pay their last respects.

 

In retrospect, it seems to have been quite an innovative invention used by the immigrants to Hawaii to help maintain their custom of reciprocity.

 

ハワイ日系の告別式写真

 

何年か前までハワイの日系はお葬式に写真家を呼んで、告別式が終わるとお寺の前に全員集合写真を撮る習慣があった。日本人には『お葬式の写真』に抵抗感があるかも知らないが、日本の風習の維持には原因があっただと思う。

 

日本から移民した日本人の大半は田舎の農家出身だった。教育を受けるチャンスは少なく、字の読み書きには悩んだ移民者は多かった。更に移民した時代には日本はまだ旧漢字を使っており、画数の多い、読みづらい苗字や名前の人がいた。しかし、同時に日本の香典習慣は強かった。勿論、香典記録は記帳されたが、それを後で読むには、誰かに頼んだり、字を確認したりするケースは多かったに違いない。そこで、移民達は『写真』に気付いた。写真なら顔認識ができるので誰が最後のご挨拶に来られたかが一目で判る。

 

幼い頃、ハワイ島の日系の他界のお知らせが入ると、お爺さんは香典帳を出してから白いモスリン袋から数多くのお葬式写真を出して確認していた覚えがある。

 

振り返ってみると移民者が母国の習慣を維持するために考えたシステムはかなり革新的であった。

By Billy Hammond (Copyright AELS)

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English books by Billy Hammond published by AELS

(AELS出版英語書籍リスト)

 

I. Majoh Gakuin and Hikari Juku – Japanese Witch Schools Trilogy

1. Majoh Gakuin & Hikari Juku – Japanese Witch Schools

2. Lost Witch (The second book)

3. Fate & Magic (The final book in the trilogy)

II. Brindle – Scryer Extraordinaire Trilogy

1. Brindle – Scryer Extraordinaire

2. Brindle – Scryer Extraordinaire – Returns

3. Brindle – Scryer Extraordinaire – Challenges (The final book in the trilogy)

III. Fantasy fiction set in Japan

1. 21st Century Ninja

2. Regressed

3. Japanese Woman

IV. Fantasy fiction set outside of Japan

1. Dimension Jumpers

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