昨夜電視說日本的教育媽媽少了點 婦女出外工作的漸多 可是公私立托兒所容量嚴重短缺
Funeral industry in spotlight after Oscar night
BY KIYOKO MIICHI
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Sakura Tokita consults Yoshiaki Yajima on funeral procedures. (YUKI NAKAZATO/THE ASAHI SHIMBUN)
Yojiro Takita's "Okuribito" (Departures), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in Hollywood on Sunday, sheds light on a profession that had received little attention until now: nokanshi, workers who prepare bodies for funerals.
One woman who relates to the lead character played by Masahiro Motoki in the movie is Sakura Tokita, 37.
Tokita has been preparing bodies for cremation for the past eight months at a funeral parlor in Ibaraki Prefecture.
"It is not painful," she said. "I feel very fulfilled when I am able to send someone on their way."
In mid-February, Tokita visited a bereaved home in Ibaraki Prefecture with a colleague, Yoshiaki Yajima, 53, to prepare a body. The work is done in full view of the bereaved family.
First, Yajima disinfected the deceased's nose and mouth with absorbent cotton dipped in rubbing alcohol, and placed more cotton in the nasal passages. Tokita handed him tweezers and other tools.
Next, Yajima drew on eyebrows and skillfully applied other makeup. The result left the dead man's face appearing younger. In just 15 minutes, the face looked much closer to a photo of the man taken years before.
The bereaved relatives became teary-eyed at the change.
"It almost looks like he will get up at any moment," one said.
Originally from Miyazaki Prefecture, Tokita joined the Metropolitan Police Department in Tokyo when she was 19. She worked as a detective.
She worked for a time after her marriage, but quit at 27 when she became pregnant. She stayed home to raise her two children for 10 years, but now that they are both in elementary school, Tokita began looking for work in June.
She answered an ad for a funeral parlor in Sakuragawa, Ibaraki Prefecture, and got the job.
The recent death of her uncle from cancer also motivated her to apply, she says.
On her first day, there was a funeral for a woman about Tokita's age.
When she saw the woman's young child, Tokita hid behind a curtain to cry.
Her first experience of preparing a body for cremation came just 10 days after she joined the company.
She had decided to just do her best, even if she made a mistake. If she found she could not handle it, she would quit, she thought.
Even when one memorizes all the procedures, it is difficult to do this work because of the pressure of working in front of bereaved family members.
Tokita admits it took a while to become adjusted to the situation.
"I often cried during my first three months on the job," she said.
Although Tokita had often seen death as a police officer when she handled traffic accidents or drug overdose cases, having children and being older have given her a deeper appreciation of life.
"I believe preparing the body for a coffin is in a way a psychological (process) that helps bereaved family members cope with their sadness," she said.
Yajima is a veteran nokanshi, having handled about 13,000 cases over a career extending about two decades.
"I just move my hands in a very focused manner without thinking about anything," he said. "The deceased's face can change greatly with just a few touches" of makeup.
Two years ago, Yajima was hospitalized after being diagnosed with a connective tissue illness. He still takes medication.
In the movie "Okuribito," one character says, "Death is like a gate that everyone has to pass through."
However, even though he has worked many years with dead bodies, Yajima says that death still scares him.
"Since I returned to work after pondering my own death, I have begun to feel more strongly that I must mourn each individual and remember them in my soul," he said.
Yajima said he was happy the movie has shed more light on their work.
Tokita also said she has found her calling.
"Like the main character, I have now, after several months, begun to feel like I can continue with this work," Tokita said. "'Okuribito' is a job that is indispensable."(IHT/Asahi: February 25,2009)