During my first year-long visit in the Shinoda household I had often visited the graveyard where the family tombstones were. Katsuko and I had walked there almost daily when I first came to the village. I had also visited the graves during anniversary rituals, when the relatives came and lit incense, poured tea over the gravestone, and placed fresh flowers before the graves. I watched all of this activity and carefully took note of it, but the graveyard to me was a peaceful place at the foot of the mountain where it was nice to take an evening walk.
The year after I first visited the family the okaasan wrote me that the grandfather of the household had died. I had never met him because he was already very old and in a nursing home when I stayed in the household. Not long after that she wrote me again that an elderly relative who lived close by and often came over to the house had also died. The okaasan suggested that I could burn incense at both these graves the next time I came back to the village.
I was now planning a return trip, and wrote the family, telling them that I was looking forward to seeing the new grandchildren, since both Katsuko and Emiko (the Shinoda's first son's wife) had both had their first babies. But while I was thinking only of the new babies, the okaasan wrote me back, not about the new arrivals, but insisting once again that I would now be able to visit the graves and burn incense for the relatives I had known who had died.
When I did return to the village the graveyard was one of the first places the family took me, and we went immediately over to the new gravesites of those relatives who had recently died. This time when the family lit incense and placed it before the graves, they handed me the incense and I took some to light too. While before, I had looked upon these same activities as something mildly exotic, this time it seemed quite natural for me to offer the incense, and to pray at the grave when my turn came, because I had known the deceased person too. The okaasan had promised that she would tell me about the grandfather's funeral when I came back to the household, and, true to her word, she filled me in on the ritual in exact detail.
The okaasan's repeated inclusion of the ancestors in a social horizon which for me was inhabited solely by the living, eventually made an impact. I now had to enlarge the family to include the family spirits too. In the process I began to see that the ancestors were not simply a fringe at the edge of the world of the living, the point where people "exited" the world. Instead, it seemed to be the other way around; the ancestors were crucial to the well-being of the world of the living, and especially crucial to the family.
Although my initial tendency was to overlook the ancestors, I now see that they were just as much a part of the household as the new grandchildren, and in some ways more so (since the children were new and immature social beings, while the ancestors mentioned above had lived their lifetimes in the family). The family spirits were constantly talked to, they were fed, they received the best gifts given to the household, which were first placed before them and after that opened by the family members. And in the first year after they died, people repeatedly said that they required more "care" than a living person. They had a "presence" in the family that was subtle, but nonetheless important. They seemed to connect the past with the present; and the world of the living with those who had left that world.