Continued from a previous post.
Warnings for sentimentality, a description of a crematorium, and a little goopy IchiRuki. ^^
ososhiki ~ funeral ceremony
Custom required family members to sleep in the same room as the corpse the night before the funeral. Of the Kurosaki family, only Isshin did that, and Karin locked Kon in a drawer just in case he wanted to re-occupy Ichigo’s body and run off with it.
The next morning, Karin complained about having to wear the stupid dress again, but Isshin popped up, didn’t bother to shower, and seemed perfectly at ease in his wrinkled suit.
There were significantly fewer people at the morning service. Business acquaintances went to work instead of to the funeral proper, and Ishida Ryuuken (in a different suit, this one classier than the first) read aloud notices of regret from hospital employees who could not attend. Then Karin read aloud telegrams from distant relatives who could not attend. The perfunctory condolences made Ichigo squirm, but the heartfelt messages sunk Ichigo’s spirits.
He was a kind and beautiful boy.
You could tell how much he cared for his sisters.
Those attending looked at one another nervously because the time for testimonials was approaching. In the Chief Mourner’s chair, Isshin sat bleary-eyed and significantly subdued from the night before. And leaning against a wall of a triage room turned funeral room, Ichigo felt more uncomfortable in this death than he ever had in his life. Being a death god wasn’t like being a dead human. As a substitute Shinigami, Ichigo had enjoyed freedom from the Living World while still maintaining a strong connection to it. Now people thought he was dead. Now Oba-chan wouldn’t send money and chocolates for his birthday. Now people would forget that Kurosaki Ichigo ever existed.
More chanting, more incense. There were plenty folding chairs today, and it was more than a little amazing to recall that last night over a hundred people had passed through the Kurosaki clinic and home. Ichigo regretted not having helped Yuzu clean up. Why did their family treat this daughter like a maid? Why was it that Yuzu’s ambition in life than went no further working at the clinic answering phones and stocking medicines?
Not Ichigo’s problem. Shinigami captains didn’t worry about human families.
All the previous night, Ichigo had stood next to his casket like a dutiful ghost. His father, also a spirit, had slept on a futon nearby and snored heartily. A gigai, Ichigo had thought. All he would need was a gigai--one that looked different from his Kurosaki self, so people wouldn’t think that he’d risen from the dead. He could live in the Living World again.
“My wife,” began Isshin as the first one to testify, “was a faultless mother and the center of our family life. She sacrificed her life for Ichigo’s life. What greater act of love is there for a mother? After she was gone, my Yuzu and Karin became little women and my Ichigo became a little man. This was necessary because their father would always be a big child.”
Oba-chan started weeping. Maybe she was remembering Masaki, but something about the tone of her sobs told Ichigo that his aunt had just realized where she was.
“Life is crying and life is laughing,” Isshin went on. His eyes were dry and his face was perfectly composed. “Ichigo missed out on a lot of his youth because he was busy being our protector. He was my hero, my son. His sacrifice was like his mother’s. He didn’t laugh like many children over foolish things or cry like many teenagers over foolish things.”
Now it was Yuzu’s turn to break down. Karin put her sister’s head on her shoulder and patted it.
“Ichigo,” said Isshin and he looked directly at his Shinigami son. “Masaki liked big hugs. Do you remember how you used to wrap your arms around her neck until we thought you were going to choke her? Sooooo….” Here Isshin winked. “If you see her, son, give her a hug for each of us.”
Keigo’s speech was too long and had people looking at their watches, but when Keigo told the story about Ichigo saving him from the bully, even Ichigo’s eyes got moist. “No one ever did things like that for me before,” said Keigo. “Without Ichigo, I would’ve been an all-out sniveling loser instead of the confident young man you see today!”
That’s it, Ichigo thought. I have to stay in the Living World to take care of Keigo too.
There was a long pause while people waited for someone else to step forward. The hesitation was beating like an irregular heartbeat in the group’s collective soul. “Now or never, people,” said Isshin and he folded his arms and looked sleepy.
Ishida got up.
“Kurosaki Ichigo was a decent person who I’m proud to say … was my friend.”
There was a collective gasp from Ichigo’s friends.
“I didn’t like him at first,” Ishida continued, “and to tell you the truth, there were always things about him that tried my patience. He, too, made it clear that there were things about me that he didn’t like.” Ishida looked at his wife and his expression softened. “But it was an honest friendship. Who among us doesn’t know the value of that?”
Everyone nodded. Tatsuki looked away when Ichigo looked at her.
“Finally,” Ishida said, “I have to thank Kurosaki Ichigo for my life. The details aren’t important, but let’s just say that if weren’t for his stupid bravery and greatly misplaced self-confidence, I wouldn’t be standing here today … and that little girl about to knock over that wreath would never have been born. If only for that, Kurosaki has my deepest gratitude.”
Everyone thought that Inoue was rushing from the room in tears, but Ichigo saw that she was holding a handkerchief to her face and giggling madly. Ishida didn’t say more because he had to pick up his kid who was crawling towards the smoking incense.
Chad’s testimonial was characteristically brief. “Ichigo was a good friend. What better thing can you say of a man?”
Chizuro, for a moment, seemed like she was going to get up, but her eye caught the heaving bosom of a sobbing young lady. Chizuro seemed to forget what she was going to do and sat transfixed, staring at breasts.
Tatsuki looked uncomfortable. “I’m going to check on Orihime,” she said to Mizuiro in a stage whisper. “Um, we’ll be back soon.”
But they weren’t back soon, and Isshin cued Yuzu to bring out the basket of flowers. Ichigo’s eyes widened. The large picnic-sized basket was full of flowers that even Ichigo recognized as expensive. Orchids, the wide-petaled pretty white kind that Mom had liked so much. Dad bought her an orchid corsage every birthday and Ichigo knew that the one flower cost plenty.
Once, Isshin had bragged that each rare orchid cost as much as dinner for eight in a fancy restaurant with two bottles of the best wine. Ichigo didn’t know if that was true, but in the basket were hundreds of orchids.
The flowers were handed in bunches to the guests, and one by one, people approached the casket to lay flowers inside and say a final goodbye.
Ichigo stared at his father. Why? Why spend all the gift money on flowers? The funeral could’ve been held in a real funeral parlor, the food could’ve been catered, there could’ve been nice sake instead of just beer at the wake.
Isshin was the last to place his flowers inside. “There you go, Ichigo,” he said. “From Masaki with love.”
Only the face of Ichigo’s dead body was visible--there were that many white flowers in the casket.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen,” said Isshin, “let us go back to the house for a final toast to the departing soul. Everyone is invited to follow the funeral car to the crematorium, but in keeping with the family’s wishes, only those designated will come inside to witness the ritual. Then we’ll come back here, have a little rice ball, have a little coca-a-cola, have some chit-chat. After that, if the weather’s nice, my daughters and I will take the urn to our family grave.”
It was at this point, as people were politely folding their own chairs and stacking them, that Ichigo noticed a lion plushie under Yuzu’s chair. Yuzu picked it up and put it under her arm. So Kon had seen some of the funeral? Ichigo thought that was only fair.
More alcohol but it was only a toast this time. Tatsuki still hadn’t re-appeared but Inoue was there, holding a sleepy little mochi-thrower in her arms. “She’s tired,” Inoue said to Ishida. “I’ll take her home.”
“Can’t you bring her? I know things like this are important to you.”
“No, Uryuu.” Inoue spoke gently. “I already know what it’s like to say goodbye to Ichigo. Tsuyu and I both need a little nap.”
Ishida kissed his wife and then his daughter on their respective foreheads, and Ichigo wondered how in the hell it ever was that Inoue had a crush on him. Had Ishida known about it? No wonder he was always so cranky and competitive with Ichigo.
The pallbearers were Chad, Keigo, Mizuiro, and Ishida, and they did their job with the required silent reverence. Ichigo followed the coffin alongside them. Stray flower petals blew into the air. Chad’s height seemed to throw the coffin off-balance, and he kept hunching over to keep the load from shifting.
Where was Tatsuki? Wasn’t she supposed to ride with the casket too?
Karin said she’d fetch her. “Listen, if she’s freaking or something I’ll just talk her down and catch up with you guys later.”
“I’ll stay too,” Chad said.
The Shinigami standing outside the funeral car gave his best friend a tragic look that didn’t have anything to do with speeches or orchids.
Karin went back into the house, and after an awkward moment, Chad said, “I love her Ichigo.”
“From the way you kept looking at me last night I thought someone must’ve told you. I apologize. Karin and I expected you to go crazy but you didn’t. I should’ve told you.”
What’s there to tell? Isn’t Karin going away to graduate school far away? Why did you have to mention it to me, Chad? I was trying to pretend it wasn’t happening.
“She wants to get engaged,” Chad said.
“It will be a long engagement because she’ll be in school for four more years, but there’s no one else for me, Ichigo. You understand that.”
Yes he did.
“I suppose,” Ichigo said, “the next time we’re all at a big serious gathering like this one will be when you two get married.”
Chad looked at Ichigo through his long brown bangs.
“Congratulations,” said Ichigo.
Chad nodded in acknowledgement and then he got into the car. Ichigo got in too and sat next to Chad.
“We’re ready to go, driver,” said Isshin. “Next stop, the bone-crusher palace!”
gan-modoshi ~ every wish has been granted; all petitions are hereby dismissed
The word “palace” wasn’t far off the mark when it came to describing the Karakura crematorium. Miles into the countryside, there was an expansive red-tiled building with large windows that let in the sun and reflected the surrounding garden. Parts of the outer building were veined marble and all the inside walls were marble as well. There were many rooms, some for receptions, some for funeral parties to wait until family members emerged from the last ritual, and some that were “quiet places” for different religions and types of Buddhist sects. There was a soba shop. There was a coffee shop. This morning the shops were empty of people.
The floors were shiny dark green. Ichigo expected to hear his funeral gang to make at least a little noise as they walked through the building, but no, their shoe-less feet padded along and no one spoke a word, not even Kon who was hanging limply under Yuzu’s arm.
The body rode on a ceramic platform pushed by an attendant now, but the pallbearers instinctively kept their places.
“Is everyone here?” the attendant asked.
Ichigo felt anxious. He was going to be burned and Chad, Tatsuki, and Karin weren’t here. He hadn’t wanted people to come and be yucked out by the cremation ceremony, but he wondered if he should shunpou back to the house, grab everybody and shunpou back.
Behind the oven door rumbled a growing fire.
“Everyone’s here,” said Isshin, and for the first time since the whole funeral event had started, he looked uncertain. “We should go ahead with the first part.”
Neither Ichigo nor his friends had ever watched a corpse go down a metal slide into an oven, but Isshin had. Maybe that’s why he looked so strange. Ichigo couldn’t remember ever having been in this place, so he figured that someone must’ve taken him and his sisters home after Mom’s funeral.
The casket was opened and down went the young handsome body and all the flowers. There was a glimpse of white kimono reflecting red-orange as the oven door opened. The roar of the fire was loud for a moment, and then the door closed and the fire sounds were muted.
Everyone bowed. Sayonara, Ichigo.
“The body will be ready for the ritual in a half hour,” the attendant said. “If you follow the signs, you should find the room easily. Until then, please feel free to enjoy our atrium, walk in our gardens, or have refreshments from our vending machines.”
“I don’t know about you people,” Isshin bellowed, “but I could do with a bag of pretzels!”
Ishida looked a little ill. Keigo asked, “People really eat in the soba shop here?” And Mizuiro stood staring at the shut oven door.
Ichigo realized what the matter was. Everyone was going to grow old, but he wasn’t. In the years ahead, he would see all the people standing here, with the exception of his Shinigami father, go down that slide.
There was a comfort in knowing that Isshin would follow him to the Gotei Thirteen. Those friends gathered here thought that they were losing Ichigo, but the reality was that he was losing them. Ichigo could come back as many times as he wanted, and his strong Shinigami spirit would survive for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.
He would live in Death, and they would die in Life.
How many more years did he have to see these people he cared for? After their deaths, they would be scattered apart. Gone, like Mom.
Everyone was having coffee when Chad and Karin showed up. “I’m glad we missed it,” Karin said. “Do we have to do the rest? I don’t really see how any more of this morbidity is psychologically healing.”
Ichigo looked around for Tatsuki.
“She’s here,” Karin said. “She said she’d do it, but only because she missed the flower business.”
“I’ve never been to one of these before,” Mizuiro said. “Is there something I should know beforehand?”
“The crematorium people should tell us what to do.” Keigo hadn’t drunken a sip of his coffee. “Why exactly are we doing this again?”
“Tradition,” said Ishida. “You can’t argue with tradition.”
The clouds covered the sun, and the huge hallway windows turned the color of an impending rainstorm.
“Just great,” said Karin. “Rain.”
Ichigo startled at the word.
“This means we might not be able to go to see Mom,” Karin added.
“I can’t understand these signs,” Ishida said. “They aren’t very specific. I figure that if we keep going around the main corridor, though, we’ll reach the right room.”
The right room was a well-lit place with a long ceramic platform near the floor. The staff were lining up large bones that had been separated from the ash when Ichigo’s party showed up.
“Kurosaki Ichigo?” asked Isshin. “Is that him?” There was no reiatsu, no mark on the skull and bones that distinguished his son from any other skeleton.
Yuzu was holding her plushie close to her chest and no one could tell that Kon was shaking with sobs.
Ichigo kept his distance from his remains this time. I can’t believe I ever thought this would be a good idea.
An attendant handed out beautiful bamboo chopsticks. “Does everyone know what to do?”
“Not really,” said Isshin, “but it’s simple enough that you don’t have to explain.”
Isshin knelt before the bones, and the attendant handed him the urn full of ashes. It was a pretty urn, a dark blue one guilded with gold crescent moons.
“Hey, all of you--over here,” said Isshin. “No particular order. I’m not fussy.”
One by one they came to the low ceramic table. Ishida knelt next to Isshin. Chad knelt next to Ishida. Then Mizuiro and Keigo. Keigo kept looking from Ichigo to the display of bones and back to Ichigo again. Karin and Yuzu sat down together at the end of the line.
“Ah,” said Isshin. “You girls thought because you came last that you would be farthest from the urn. Doesn’t work that way.” He gave the urn to Ishida. “Here, pass it down. I’m the chief mourner so I get to pick up the bones first. You there, Yuzu. You’re at the end of the line so you put them in.”
Yuzu put her plushie on her lap. She was a small, delicate girl who seemed the type to carry a plushie into a crematorium. The attendants didn’t look twice at the yellow lion convulsing with grief.
“Daddy,” said Yuzu. “It smells funny.”
“That would be because,” Isshin told her with no gentleness at all, “there are burned things inside that urn.” He picked up a bone with his chopsticks and passed it to Ishida. Ishida examined the bone with detached curiosity. Chad took the bone and passed it down. When the bone got to Yuzu, she put it into the urn. Then the attendant came over and with a pestle crushed the bone into the ash. It was an innocent sound--like gravel being turned over with a spoon.
The process kept repeating itself. Ishida kept examining each piece. “Ball and socket of the femur,” he whispered at one point. No one else said a word.
Then an attendant opened the door and addressed Isshin. “A young lady named Arisawa Tatsuki says that she is a member of your group?”
“What?” came an impatient voice from the corridor. “You don’t believe me? Do I look like the kind of person who crashes crematorium ceremonies for kicks?”
“Tatsuki-chan!” Isshin smiled and waved her over. “Here, sit next to me. There are still a lot of good parts left. Attendant-san, can we have some chopsticks for the lady?”
Ichigo walked closer to the urn and folded his arms. He was disappointed that Tatsuki hadn’t looked at him. He was truly sorry that this was all so hard for her and he considered saying something to her right in front of everyone … but he didn’t.
After Tatsuki’s appearance, the ritual took on a change. Tatsuki, unlike everyone else, talked with irreverence--she was even more casual about the bone-passing than Isshin. “I feel like I’m in a Halloween haunted house and the next thing I’m going to do is fondle some eyeballs that are really grapes.”
People laughed at that. Even Keigo who had looked on the verge of crying for a moment.
“The skull,” said Isshin and picked up a piece of jagged cranium. “This part goes last, children. The lady there doesn’t crunch it up, and we put it in the urn so that the face of the skull looks upwards.”
“I’m not going to ask why,” Tatsuki said.
A cheekbone with part of an eye-socket was handed to her, and she dropped it. “Uh oh. Bad luck, right?”
“Not at all,” said Isshin. “It’s just like dropping some rice on the table. You apologize to the hostess.”
Tatsuki pinched her chopsticks together and looked confused.
“In this case, you apologize to Ichigo,” said Isshin.
“You’re making this up,” said Tatsuki, and she brought the bone close to her face. “This isn’t Ichigo at all,” she said. Her voice became angry. “You know, I don’t see the point in any of this when Ichigo--“” She waved the bone around--“he isn’t here. You can’t take who he is, put him in an urn, and carry him around with you.”
“That could be the point here,” offered Ishida. “Maybe we’re supposed to understand that the real Ichigo is somewhere else.”
“Like right behind you.” Ichigo said. “Damn it, Tatsuki. Why aren’t you even looking at me?”
She must’ve sensed him before he touched her, but even so she let out a little gasp. Ichigo’s arms were around her neck and his face was pressed against her cheek. Ishida scooted away from the pair, and everyone else looked stunned.
“I thought you understood,” Ichigo said. His voice was desperate. “I thought you were cool with letting me go.”
Tatsuki allowed Ichigo to cling to her. She looked straight ahead. She seemed to have forgotten that she was holding a piece of skull in her chopsticks.
The bone-passing ritual had stopped dead in its tracks.
Ichigo hadn’t touched someone like this for years. He embraced Rukia but in a different way. This embrace was almost a choke-hold, and Ichigo remembered that this was the way he’d hug Mom.
A few more moments and the tears were rolling down Tatsuki’s cheeks. Ichigo felt the wetness against his own face.
“Talk to me,” said Ichigo. It didn’t matter that everyone was staring at him and that the attendants, used to peculiar demonstrations of emotion, had turned their eyes downward, waiting for the bone-passing to resume.
“I’m not cool with letting you go,” Tatsuki said sharply, and she pulled out of Ichigo’s hold. “I’m sorry, Ichigo. There, does that count as an apology to the dead?”
“Technically,” said Isshin. “But it’s a close call.”
“It doesn’t count,” said Ichigo, and in one brisk movement he yanked Tatsuki to her feet. The skull piece fell with a brittle clack-clack against another bone.
“What the fuck are you doing, Ichigo?” Tatsuki was trying to keep up with him as he walked her across the room.
Now this the attendants weren’t used to. “As you were,” said Ichigo to their faces as he took Tatsuki into the corridor. “Go on with your little ceremony now. I’ve got something to talk about here with this disrespectful girl.”
To the attendants it must’ve sounded like one girl having a psychotic tantrum in the hall, but Isshin must’ve convinced them not to call security, because Ichigo and Tatsuki weren’t interrupted. Ichigo didn’t even know what they were yelling about, exactly. All he knew was that it felt good to yell.
“What do you mean I’m as much a friend to you as Chad? Why didn’t I get to be pallbearer, then--tell me that.”
“I don’t make the rules. I don’t even know if there’s such a thing as girl pallbearers.”
“Was this all a big game for you, Ichigo? Did you want to make everybody cry just so you could feel important? Ever since you made captain, you’ve been a real dick. Why can’t you just act like a normal person?”
“I am a normal person.”
“No you’re not. You’re a freaking freak who’s half dead and half not.”
“You’re contradicting yourself.”
“Why did you hug me like that? That’s the most embarrassed I’ve ever been in my whole life. All the people who work here must think I’m freaking out over you because I’m your girlfriend.”
“Oh stop it. Since when have you ever cared about stuff like that?”
The yelling went on for a good while, and by the time Isshin and company emerged from their room, Tatsuki and Ichigo were sitting on the shiny floor and arguing more quietly.
“Why didn’t you tell me about Inoue?” Ichigo asked.
“It couldn’t have been any plainer than day,” Tatsuki said. “I assumed you knew.”
“You assume a lot of things. I’m not as smart as you think.”
Isshin was hugging the urn. “Are things all better now?”
“Yes,” said Tatsuki. She gave Ichigo a scowl. “No thanks to you, though.” She got up and adjusted the black skirt she obviously despised wearing. “Well, a little thanks to you maybe.”
Karin looked up at Chad. “That’s the way some people resolve things. For those two, fighting will always be more psychologically satisfying than crying.”
Ichigo didn’t know what happened on the ride back to the house, because he’d decided to flash-step ahead and avoid further intimacy in the close quarters of the car. Maybe everyone had gotten psychologically purged; maybe not. All Ichigo knew was that it hurt to think of leaving his earthly life. It hurt to think that his friends, all purged and at peace with the concept of mortality, might go on with their lives, forgetting Kurosaki Ichigo.
When he got to the house, everything was pretty much as it had been before the funeral. Even the folding chairs were gone, but there was a vague smell of incense and beer. Someone must’ve cleaned up. Did Dad hire a maid too?
“Yo,” came a husky voice behind him. Ichigo turned around and it was Rukia.
“A Shinigami has come to collect my soul,” said Ichigo.
“Not exactly,” said Rukia. “I thought you might like a little company to your mother’s grave.”
Ichigo stuck his hand under the lampshade and turned the switch to low. It was dark in the house, but he didn’t want to make the room completely bright either.
“The weather’s bad,” Ichigo said. “We’re probably not going until tomorrow.”
Rukia sat on the couch where Kon had spent most of the last few years. “Welcome to Death, Ichigo,” she said. “You think you’ve gone through a big change? There are more changes to come. Believe me. I’ve been dead longer than you.”
Ichigo was looking at the window at the gray skies. “You know what I remembered today?”
“How much I miss my mom.”
“Well, that’s good,” said Rukia.
Ichigo turned away from the window to give her a puzzled look.
“Your friends,” Rukia said. “They won’t forget you, Ichigo. Love is not something the soul forgets.”
Ichigo looked down. He would have to think about that one.
“Hey,” said Rukia.
“Look behind you. The rain has stopped.”
He thought she was joking about a line that was part of their romantic history because he and Rukia must’ve made a thousand jokes about rain in the past couple years. When Ichigo looked out the window, though, he saw that she was right. There was no longer a single trace of gray in the sky. The large clouds must’ve blown away. The small ones left looked white and harmless.
Ichigo smiled. He turned back to face a brightening room and Rukia’s playful expression. “It wasn’t raining,” Ichigo said, “It was just dark.”
“Nooooo,” argued Rukia. “I felt some raindrops outside--didn’t you? It was … sprinkling rain.”
“Okay, okay. I get it. The rain has stopped.”
Rukia opened her arms. “I have a talent for making it do that.”
A/N: I researched how so many different types of funerals were held during Japan’s history, and I didn’t get to use 99% of my information. Most of the practices in this story are typical of a modern Buddhist funeral in Japan. Practices vary from region to region, so I played with different ones and made up a tiny thing here and there.
What I like most about a traditional Japanese funeral is that bodies are not embalmed; they’re lain on dry ice and they don’t get that sunken look of embalmed corpses. Also, the bone-passing ceremony. I always thought that viewing a body was the best way to understand the finality of death, but this ritual beats that. Like Ishida says in the story, maybe the point is to understand that the soul is somewhere else.