Mass graves replace elaborate funerals in northern Japan

By Kyung Lah, CNN, March 28, 2011

Kamaishi, Japan -- Ikuo Fujiwara stops in front of the wreckage of the Buddhist temple, brings his hands together and prays.

The monk bursts into tears, an involuntary act, as he asks heaven what he can do to comfort his destroyed hometown and begin to rebuild his house of worship.

Fujiwara needs heaven to speak to him, for he must preside over Kamaishi's first mass burials in memory. Behind his temple, the sound of heavy machinery digging giant ditches for unmarked coffins echoes through the shattered remains of the 300-year-old building.

"We don't have enough places to cremate the bodies," says Fujiwara. "So temporarily, we're burying the bodies here."

The ditches sit within 50 meters of the Buddhist burial plots, where cremated remains lie underneath grey headstones. This is a sacred practice that every Japanese person expects at death, explains Fujiwara. A Japanese funeral is elaborate, formal, and ritualized in the Buddhist faith.

So the wide ditches and the coffins, which will eventually lie in them side by side, are an unbearable insult in the minds of ordinary Japanese citizens.

But ordinary expectations have been abandoned in Japan's tsunami zone, where entire towns were decimated by a wall of water that struck in the wake of a magnitude-9.0 earthquake March 11.

"I feel very sad about this," says Fujiwara, adding that the mass graves are only one component of the overwhelming pain felt throughout Kamaishi. "My friends and my temple members, I don't know yet how many of them I lost. And the town is destroyed. I'm concerned if we can rebuild."

Fujiwara doesn't look like the monk of this temple, wearing a fisherman's boots and winter coat. The tsunami destroyed all of his robes. Like many of the tsunami victims mourning the dead, he can't dress in proper funeral attire.

Fujiwara says he will still try to administer the most respectful service he can offer to the survivors who will line the ditches. But he knows in the minds of many of those families, it will never replace a proper Japanese Buddhist ceremony.

However, city health leaders say they have no choice but to bury the dead in mass graves. Thousands of bodies pulled from the rubble have been stored in school gymnasiums-turned-morgues.

About 17,000 people remain missing, so officials believe more bodies will be recovered. Even if they can be identified, the crematoriums on Japan's northern coastline are either damaged from the tsunami or already full. A shortage of gas has meant bodies can't be taken to other parts of the country for cremation.

Stressing the burials will be temporary, cities have begun the process of placing bodies in mass graves to prevent disease outbreak.

Tadaharu Kinoshita, searching through Kamaishi's morgues for his brother, says it hurts his heart to think of his kin lying in a mass grave.

But there is a greater indignity, he says.

"My one hope is to find his body," says Kinoshita. "If he remains missing, we'll never really know. Even if he's in a mass grave, at least then, we'll know."

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: