There is a little shrine box thing called butsudan in our living room, where our ancestors’ spirits are said to reside. We would sit down in front of it, burn some incense and pray. I was told not to ask favours of our ancestors; they would guide us in times of trouble, no doubt, yet it is not in their power to grant us our gratuitous wishes as they arise. (That particular duty lies in someone else’s realm, who is ever so generous.) So I keep to reports of my progress in this life when I sit down in front of butsudan.
I recently found that my little niece of two is quite a devout little thing. She told me to sit down in front of butsudan and pray, and when I willingly complied, enchanted by the request, she told me to shift, barely giving me enough time to say “Hello, grandfather and grandmother.” She sat down in perfect little seiza, her little back straight, with her little hands held together in a pious prayer. Lord knows what went through that pretty little head of hers, but what a pious little picture she made.
I wondered if my brother overdid that revere-the-ancestors business by taking her to Aomori to pay my other (living) grandmother respect. Maybe she got it into her head that this little shrine was another object that some homage was due, as I taught her this was where her great grand-parents were living. Strike while the iron is hot and impressionable and all that. Now she’s a perfect little Buddhist.
Or, it could also be because of her Christian leaning; the nursery school she goes to is a wonderful, caring place and also very Christian in that the school song has a bit about thanking our Father in Heaven and such, as I found out on her first Sports Day. (Apparently they have Prayer Time too.) Nowadays she sings this song now and again, particularly that bit about thanking our Lord, in that little child’s breathless manner, which is really sweet I have to say.
As these thoughts were coursing through my head, my little niece lowered her pious little hands and said, “Kaki chodai (gimme the persimmon), ” holding them out towards the butsudan with a big shiny orange persimmon placed in front of it as an offering to the resident spirits.