Death and life

Mark Robinson

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Mr and Mrs Yoshida. Photo: Mark Robinson

When someone around this older part of Tokyo dies, a person comes from the local association to give you the news, and you pass the clipboard holding the notice to your neighbour, who also passes it on, and so on. This happened a few months ago at Yoshida’s CD shop on Kokusai-dori. We were listening to music when a woman, obviously well known to Yoshida, came up between his shelves of cassettes and CDs with barely a greeting, said sorry for interrupting, told him so-and-so had passed away, gave him the notification, mentioned something about a wake et cetera, then walked out again. She would have been a fellow resident from West Asakusa District One. Yoshida took the information coolly. I think he had already heard, or was expecting it.

Death is more a part of life in Japan than in the West. People seem less scared of it. Sometimes they treat it as a sort of obligation. I saw a man on television from Hiroshima who had lost his brother in a mudslide. He was upset, partly because the brother had died earlier than their parents. The brother had jumped the queue. Because of this, the man said, he was a bad son.

I was in a taxi recently going to visit Yoshida in hospital, and the driver wanted to talk about illness and ageing. I asked him if this was true, that people will speak poorly of someone if they die ahead of their parents. He responded as if it were common sense. He said, We have this thing, about taking your turn. Loss is something we have to go through. The deceased brother escaped grief and inflicted it on his mother and father, who would now have to grieve additionally, since they had already suffered their own parents’ passing.

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