It is always interesting to me how cultures so different as the Japanese and European ones can be so similar sometimes. Two of my friends, whom I have told about the death of my grandmother gave me little gifts to aid in remembering: A set of candles and some incense. We do use candles in Europe as well to remember the deceased, but the Japanese ones that are burnt in Buddhist temples are much, much smaller, barely 10 cm long, and more delicate. The ones I received are hand painted with lotus flowers – a popular Buddhist theme where people are believed to be born again on the other side on a lotus flower (and may even share it with their loved ones for all eternity).
Outside of church and some very special occasions, using incense is not common in Europe. Here, however, people burn it in temples and in front of the family tomb at certain holidays. Also, even in the cities, many Japanese people still have a butsudan in their homes, a small shrine where they keep a Buddha statue or image and tablets bearing the names of their dead family members. When praying in front of the butsudan, both candles and incense are used.
It’s always nice to see different ways of dealing with the same problems. And it’s nice that my friends think of me – and teach me the Japanese ways.