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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Others kisari mochi were appointed to carry the viands

*B.H. Chamberlain.


Burial rites were important ceremonials. The house hitherto tenanted by the deceased was abandoned--a custom exemplified in the removal of the capital to a new site at the commencement of each reign--and the body was transferred to a specially erected mourning-hut draped inside with fine, white cloth. The relatives and friends then assembled, and for several days performed a ceremony which resembled an Irish wake, food and sake being offered to the spirit of the dead, prayers put up, and the intervals devoted to weird singing and solemn dancing. Wooden coffins appear to have been used until the beginning of the Christian era, when stone is said to have come into vogue.

At the obsequies of nobles there was considerable organization. Men (mike-hito) were duly told off to take charge of the offerings of food and liquor; others (kisari-mochi) were appointed to carry the viands; others (hahaki-mochi) carried brooms to sweep the cemetery; there were females (usu-me) who pounded rice, and females (naki-me) who sung dirges interspersed with eulogies of the deceased. The Records mention that at the burial of Prince Waka a number of birds were used instead of these female threnodists. It appears, further, that those following a funeral walked round the coffin waving blue-and-red banners, carrying lighted torches, and playing music.

In the sepulchres the arms, utensils, and ornaments used daily by the deceased were interred, and it was customary to bury alive around the tombs of Imperial personages and great nobles a number of the deceased's principal retainers. The latter inhuman habit was nominally abandoned at the close of the last century before Christ, images of baked clay being substituted for human sacrifices, but the spirit which informed the habit survived, and even down to modern times there were instances of men and women committing suicide for the purpose of rejoining the deceased beyond the grave. As to the nature of the tombs raised over the dead, the main facts have been stated in Chapter VI.


The habit of blackening the teeth has long prevailed among married women in Japan, but the Yamato tombs have thus far furnished only one example of the practice, and no mention occurs in the ancient annals. Face painting, however, would seem to have been indulged in by both sexes. Several of the pottery images (haniwa) taken from the tombs indicate that red pigment was freely and invariably used for that purpose. It was applied in broad streaks or large patches, the former encircling the face or forming bands across it; the latter, covering the eyes or triangulating the cheeks. It is probable that this bizarre decoration was used only on ceremonial occasions and that it appears in a greatly accentuated form on the haniwa.


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