This Bon poignant in Tohoku


People who lost loved ones in the Tohoku region are preparing for the first Bon holidays since the March 11 quake and tsunami.

Thousands of people are still missing, and many survivors want to honor them during the annual Buddhist ritual to pray for the souls of the deceased even if the bodies have not been found.

Tomoji Usuzawa, who owned a funeral company in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, has recently opened a makeshift store selling Buddhist altar implements ahead of the mid-August Bon season in response to growing calls from townspeople to restart his business, which along with his big house was swept away by the tsunami.

“I’ve now settled down in temporary housing, and I started to feel for Buddha,” he says.

Candles measuring around 20 cm used to sell well during the Bon season, but now small candles of only 2.5 cm which burn for just eight minutes are in high demand, Usuzawa says.

“I’ve never sold such small ones, but people seem to want this size now because it would be a disaster if fire breaks out in temporary housing.”

In Sumita, Iwate Prefecture, a funeral firm began leasing Buddhist altars. The compact type, which sells for ¥44,000, costs ¥6,000 to lease for two years.

Ryokichi Shimizu, a stone dealer in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, says he is busy trying to meet such requests as fixing damaged gravestones and engraving names on new tombstones.

In many cases in coastal areas, graveyards are on the tops or sides of hills, making his work difficult and time-consuming.

“I have some 10 people working for me, and we all go up the mountains with our tools, but I’m not sure if we’ll be able to get all the work done by the Bon holidays,” Shimizu says.

Katsushi Kumagai, who runs a flower shop in Kamaishi, is uncertain how business is going to be this Bon. “I have no idea how much flowers I should stock for the holidays,” he says.

Kumagai has been asked by people in neighboring Otsuchi to open a makeshift flower shop there just during the Bon holidays, but he hasn’t been able to arrange it yet.

Dainenji Temple in Otsuchi will hold joint prayer services twice a day during Bon.

“We can’t hold services for individual households,” says the temple’s priest, Shumyo Ogayu. “Each person has a way to get peace of mind. It’ll be good if people could come to terms with their loss.”