The 49th Day

Tsugiko prepares for her husband’s 49th day memorial

“This is a very important day for sending his spirit on… for sending him on to the next world,” says Tsugiko Ouchi as she prepares what she will wear to today’s memorial service. Her husband, Hiroshima survivor Saichi, died forty-nine days ago, and in the Buddhist tradition, this is the day his spirit will transition to its new life.

Like everything in her life now – her post-evacuation life – events big and small become reminders of what she’s lost. After spending 20 minutes rifling through everything in her bedroom drawers and painstakingly separating her dry cleaning, Tsugiko realizes she’s missing her best black kimono – the very thing she wants to wear to today’s service. The kimono, her son tells her, is back home in Yamakiya hanging in a closet that seems frozen in time since they were forced to leave after the nuclear disaster in 2011.

After today’s memorial service Hidekazu, Saishi’s son, will put his father’s picture next to the other ancestors who have passed.

The priest who is leading today’s memorial service is a friend of Hidekazu’s from childhood, and he’s been generous enough to give us permission to film. He’s also the one who gave Saichi his holy name after he died. The holy name is important after death because Buddhist tradition says if spirits hear their own name on earth, they might want to stay, but this new name helps set them free.

“This is really good name, very meaningful,” Hidekazu says as he shows us the ten characters (longer holy names are “better” – and by comparison, when his brother died last year, his holy name was only six characters). The long name includes characters for “pure” and “special,” and is an indication of how much Saichi contributed to the temple and community during his lifetime, and how much his ancestors contributed during theirs.

Hidekazu with the “ihais” – spirit tablets – of his brother and father. Written on the tablets are their holy names. These tablets are kept at the family altar inside the home.

Follow the filming of our documentary SON OF SAICHI on Facebook and Twitter #sonofsaichi #bethsinjapan

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