This is Nana-chan. She is a Japanese Shiba and has been part of my husband’s family since he was 16 years old. Earlier this year, at the ripe old age of 17, Nana-chan finished up her last cycle of cell renewal and bid us farewell.
In Japan burial is incredibly rare and therefore the vast majority of bodies are cremated. This also applies to pets.
When your beloved four-legged friend dies, a special cremation van comes to your home and cremates your pet there and then. They are handed back to you in a ceramic urn housed in a cardboard and silk box.
My husband’s family made a shrine for Nana-chan in the entrance hall of their home where they could greet her every day, leave her gifts and burn incense.
After a few weeks the family have all said their goodbyes and it is time to bury Nana-chan’s cremains in the garden.
First, a temporary shrine is set up with fresh flowers, gifts of food and water and a clean white cotton cloth. We light incense and say a prayer before beginning.
The cremains are removed from the silk urn and spread over the white cloth.
You’ll notice that, unlike in the UK, the cremains are not ground down into ‘ash’. When humans and animals are cremated in Japan the family are presented with the bones which they take turns to transfer to the urn using chopsticks.
We sift through the cremains to find the throat bone. This is placed on the top of the cremains as it is the same shape as two hands in prayer. This also happens when humans are cremated.
Each step of the ritual is graceful and strong. Time feels slowed.
The cremains are wrapped in the white cloth and carried to the garden.
The family dig a hole in the shade of a tree and we nestle Nana-chan into her final resting place.
We place fresh flowers and incense on the grave and say more prayers.
With just the chirping of birds breaking the silence, we reflect on all the wonderful times we’ve had with Nana-chan and thank her for bringing so much joy to our lives.
We bid her a final farewell and tell her we love her.
It is a very moving, gentle and beautiful ritual that allows space for grief and quiet contemplation.
Being able to continue caring for your loved ones after death with the same level of devotion you did when they were alive is an honour and a true comfort. It eases the transition into a life without them and reinforces your deep bond.
My husband and I are given Nana-chan’s toe bones to take back to London. These will be placed on our family altar.
I’d like to say a special thanks to the Ishikawa’s for allowing me to document the ceremony. It has really opened my eyes to the importance of slowing down and taking your time when faced with the death of a loved one. It is an example we can all follow.
Bon voyage Nana-chan.
Big death positive love to you all.
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