Bon preparation: something must die


Bon is when the spirits of the dead come back to their ancestral homes to visit. When I moved into my house, the grandfather’s “ihai” (ancestral tablet) was still in the Butsudan (family shrine) and stayed there for years. I always enjoyed leaving sake, fruit and other offerings out for his return at Bon.

When the grandmother died in February, I thought the son would also leave the ihai tablet in the Butsudan, and I was looking forward to putting out green tea and rice on the altar for the “obachan” in the mornings. But the son took both the grandfather and the grandmother’s ihai back to his apartment in the city. I had missed my chance to care for a spirit. And no one would come back to my house for Bon, either, since the spirits return to where the ihai is.

But, as luck had it, my neighbor’s little dog died the other evening. I don’t mean to say that I was not sad that the dog died, I was just happy that I wouldn’t have to walk it anymore when my neighbor was gone. It’s one of those dogs that you have to lug around on the end of a leash like a ball and chain.

Furthermore, the dog would get extremely excited whenever I’d go to my neighbor’s house. Perhaps you have had the experience of having a dog hump your leg. Well, that never happened. Thanks to Japanese-style houses, where you sit on the floor, the little dog used to come over to me and hump my arm. All the while panting in my face while my nostrils filled with dog breath. So you see, although I do love dogs, and although this dog loved me, I did not love this dog.

But the other night at 10 p.m., Kazuko came over to say that her dog had uttered her last burp and expired on the carpet. Well, it was too dark to bury the dog, so we pondered how to keep the dog “fresh” until the morning.

I kept hoping she was not going to ask me to store this dog in my refrigerator. You see, I have a big refrigerator that is usually empty except for beer and chocolate, so Kazuko often stores extra vegetables and fish in it. So, to make sure there was no way she could possibly ask to put her dog in my refrigerator, and to avoid the embarrassment of turning her down, I offered my refrigerator instead. “Hairu?” I said (“Think it’ll fit?”). But Kazuko wisely turned down the offer, perhaps thinking I might nibble on the dog for breakfast. After all, the word “hotdog” had a whole new meaning now.

Instead, Kazuko retrieved a styrofoam fish box and we filled it with ice from my refrigerator. We left the dog in her house, on ice, overnight.

In the morning, the dog was indeed still “fresh.” When we finished burying it, Kazuko put out a small dish of water on the grave and sunk a vase into the ground, which I filled with fresh cut flowers from my garden.

I used to have mixed feelings about the dog, but no more. Now I love the dog. Every day, I put flowers from my garden on the little dog’s grave. I’m happy that I finally have a spirit to take care of. And just in time for Bon!