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Sayonara Love-chan: the Funeral of a Japanese Dog
A Buddhist ceremony for a Japanese dog
I'm not much of a pet person so when my landlady's dog died I was surprised to be invited to the funeral. In Japan, nearly all funerals are Buddhist ceremonies, this includes the funerals of pets.
It was the day after her maltese died that we took him to a funeral home for pets. His name was "Love" and he was ten years old.
The closest funeral home for pets consisted of several buildings including the reception hall, the temple and the crematory. In Japan, pets are cremated after they die. The pet cemetery was also nearby.
To the left is a photo of the memorial wall. Each tablet includes the family name and the pet's name. Most families do not choose the wall, they prefer their privacy but for those who do there is an annual fee.
Those who think pet funerals are too lavish or excessive have the option of calling the local animal shelter. Someone from the facility would then pick up the animal for free.
This, however, is unlike anything like anything I've ever seen: a Buddhist ceremony for a Japanese dog. Sayonara, Love-chan. We're going to miss you.
A Japanese funeral is very different from a Western funeral. The culture shock was a bit much for me to handle even though this funeral was for a pet. For this reason--and to respect the family's privacy--I did not include the entire ceremony.
If you absolutely must know the part that alarmed me the most, please click here. In this case, it is the same for pets as it is for people.
Please remember that all cultures are different but all families love their pets. For example, to the right is just a small part of the pet cemetery. For those families who choose, they may have their pet placed in a "haka" or Japanese grave here.
Any disrespectful comments will be removed. Thank you for understanding.
Love-chan was a white maltese. He was calm and very well-behaved. However, he always let loose a low-key growl whenever anyone picked him up. Then once he was in our arms he was calm again.
My landlady owned Love-chan since he was a young puppy so she was devastated to hear he had cancer. She took him to the veterinary as often as possible for treatment but in the end he didn't make it. He was ten years old.
She called a nearby funeral home for pets to make the arrangements. They would be able to take him the next day.
Pets are given the title "-chan" at the end of their names. This is because "-chan" is a title given to childhood friends, children and adorable animals. Love was his name and Love-chan was what we all called him.
I've never had a pet so I've never had to work through the bereavement that a pet owner faces after the pet dies. I'm not sure any book will "cure" such pain but this one is a good place to start.
We were early so there was a short wait. I saw other families mourning their losses as well. Although this would be a Buddhist ceremony very similar to those given to humans, each would only take several hours. Our clothes were casual. I did not see any suits or kimonos that day.
In the photo above is a hall for funeral ceremonies. Because our group consisted only of a few people, our ceremony was held in another, smaller hall with fewer seats.
We sat facing the statues. In front of the statues was a small urn for burning incense. Towards the right was a Buddhist priest. He chanted with beads.
He stopped for a moment. Then we each went up to the urn to light incense. Each of us took a pinch of ground incense and held it up as we bowed. Then we sprinkled the incense over the urn. We did this three times each. This ritual is called "shoo-koo" (pronounced as shoh-koh). The chanting then continued.
After the service and outside the hall we were able to see Love-chan one last time before he was cremated. We were given a small white cloth and a small bowl of water. We each put the cloth in the water then put the wet cloth on his mouth.
I didn't know it at the time but this ritual is the "matsugo-no-mizu" (water of the last moment). The dead are thirsty and this is to give them one last drink.
Sayonara Love-chan - We're going to miss you
I'm not much of a pet person so a small cynical part of me expected a quick, thoughtless ceremony. I had no idea the locals loved their pets as much as Americans did. The staff was very kind and understanding throughout the day. Everyone took their jobs very seriously.
Not only did I learn more about Japanese culture, I was also able to help a friend mourn the loss of a family member.
"Marley & Me" is story of a labrador retriever that, despite its behavior, wins the hearts of his family. Pet owner or no, everyone can enjoy this one.