Saying Good-bye to Dan Oniroku
Last Monday I attended the funeral service for Dan Oniroku at the Zojo-ji Buddhist temple in Tokyo along with an associate. I had never been to a Japanese funeral before and, of course, I wanted to pay my respects to Dan-sensei.
It was an extraordinary experience which I will tell you about shortly, but first I'd like to give you an update on the gift that I and 25 others from various countries sent to him.
A few days ago I mentioned that we had sent a framed picture with our well wishes to Dan-sensei by way of a publishing company. It turns out they were able to get our gift to him before he passed away. But I wasn't sure about Dan's condition at the time or if he was fully able to appreciate our sentiments.
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Then I received this message via a colleague:
"I attended the wake for Dan-sensei tonight. I confirmed that he personally received the gift and held it in his hands when he was still conscious. Dan-sensei's daughter expressed her thanks for it. I will tell you the details later.
“Please tell [name redacted] about this.
“Also, I saw the gift in the ceremony hall along with his mementos."
The correspondent is referring to the wake for Dan-san which was held on Sunday May 15. The funeral was the next day.
I have since received an update from the same correspondent, Ms. Hanafusa Kannon, a novelist and winner of the first Dan Oniroku Prize for literature. She was instrumental in getting our gift to Dan-san in time.
Ms. Hanafusa contacted Dan's publisher, Musosha, and then provided the details concerning where to send the gift. I sent it immediately upon receiving this info.
Please keep in mind that it is not always easy translating Japanese sentiments into English. I received some special help from Noe (a professional translator) who can be found on FetLife, and am grateful for her invaluable assistance.
The following is the update from Ms. Hanafusa. I am including some commentary at the end of her message which will hopefully make Dan-sensei's words as clear as possible.
“I was very glad to receive the thank-you message from [name redacted]. Please give my regards to him.
“When Ms. Matsumura, president of Musosha, handed the gift to Dan-san, he said: 'Matsumura, how much money do you think this will make?'
“This was always Dan's favorite phrase and was part of his sense of humor.
“When Mr. Kenjo (see below) asked Dan many years ago to publish Flower and Snake through his company, Kadokawa Publishing, Dan said: 'Kenjo, how much money do you think it will make?' As you know, Mr. Kenjo told this story at Dan-sensei's funeral. Dan's family said these were his favorite words.
“When he said, 'How much can it make?', then we know his mind was clear and he was excited to receive it. Also, his daughter said he was very happy to receive the gift.
“The next day, he lapsed into unconsciousness and passed away.
“I am grateful that the gift was in his hands when he was still conscious and aware.
“Please send my best wishes to [name redacted].
“I confirm my determination that people who love Dan-sensei will protect this world.”
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Commentary: Here is how Noe explains part of this message.
“The first part about the joke: the Japanese phrase means 'How much money will this be?' … The meaning behind the phrase is that discussing the price of a gift is not good manners, so it makes a joke to utter it deliberately … Discussing the profit a project may bring is also a difficult topic to bring up, so to talk about it directly makes it a kind of joke. Basically, it's a very frank way to show that he doesn't keep himself aloof, that he is honest about his own feelings.”
To provide additional context, Dan-sensei was a man who appreciated having money, and when he had it, enjoyed spending it. He also knew what it was like not having money. My personal feeling is that, when he had it, money served him. Not the other way around.
In addition, whenever Dan-sensei said these words, it meant that he was happy and excited. This is what Hanafusa-san was trying to communicate to us; that Dan-sensei was not only very aware of receiving our gift, but that he was enthused about it as well. It is an honor that these were the same words he used when he talked to Kenjo-san about Flower and Snake.
A literal translation does not work here. This is why I have gone to some lengths to try to communicate the subtle meaning of these important words.
The last part of Hanafusa-san's message is quite difficult. According to Noe, she is referring to our SM world. She hopes those of us who admired and respected Dan Oniroku will live worthily and “protect this world”.
My thanks to Ms. Hanafusa for her efforts and to Ms. Matsumura of Musosha Publishing. Because of them, our work was not in vain.
I can hardly believe our gift was in Dan-sensei's hands the day before he passed on. He was still lucid but it was literally at the last possible moment. I'm still trying to wrap my brain around this because I started this seemingly simple project almost exactly one year ago.
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Zojo-ji dates back several centuries. According to Wikipedia, "Six of the 15 Tokugawa shoguns are buried at Zojo-ji". The temple was heavily damaged during World War II but has since been restored.
We arrived just prior to the 11 a.m. start time. As we walked into the foyer, there was some Western music playing. It sounded like music from the 1930s and was upbeat. It seemed incongruous at first, but then I thought: If this was the music Dan-sensei liked to listen to, what better way to celebrate his life? I later confirmed that Dan-sensei enjoyed this style of music.
At the end of the funeral ceremony, enka music was playing, which he also loved.
Off to the right of the foyer was the display of mementos from Dan's life and sure enough, there was our gift. When I saw it I almost fell over.
I pondered just how many important mementos Dan-sensei must have accumulated over his long and productive career and, to think that our gift was included in this display, well, I was flabbergasted.
From the foyer we entered the main hall where the service was to take place. But before we did, two recognizable figures passed by: Naka Akira and Saotome Hiromi.
There was seating on two sides of the main hall with an aisle down the middle leading to the platform where a large photograph of Dan-sensei loomed. The photo was surrounded by a wall of flowers.
Dan's family was seated in front on the right. My associate and I were also seated on the right a few rows behind the family members.
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The place filled up quickly. Over 300 people attended the funeral and I heard later that over 400 had attended the wake. There were about a dozen media people there as well.
Three priests walked slowly down the center aisle chanting as they made their way to the platform. Once on the platform, they took their places, facing Dan sensei's photo, their backs to the rest of us. The next 20 to 30 minutes were devoted to chanted prayers (sutras), and the somber sounds of two types of percussive instruments.
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I had expected a gong but these were different. The one on the left was shaped like a large urn but did produce a familiar gong-like tone. The one on the right looked like an oddly shaped boulder and had a deeper, more thudding resonance.
I had once stayed overnight at a Buddhist temple near Kamakura and attended the morning service. I was reminded of that experience as I sat in Zojo-ji and contemplated the profound meaning we associate with the various stages of life and how we attach importance to these events through rites and rituals.
Three of Dan-sensei's closest associates took turns addressing the gathered, giving us glimpses into his full and colorful life. They went to the front where a microphone had been arranged and faced Dan's portrait as they spoke.
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The first to speak was Mr. Kenjo Toru. Kenjo-san was the man who had worked for Kadokawa, one of Japan's largest publishing houses, and who was referenced by Ms. Hanafusa above. He is the one who talked to Dan-sensei about publishing the famous novel, Flower and Snake. And he is the one to whom Dan directed the question: “How much money do you think it will make?” Kenjo-san answered, “Probably it can make four million dollars.” Dan quickly replied, “OK! let's publish it!"
Kenjo's anecdote from so long ago got a chuckle from the audience.
Mr. Kenjo eventually left Kadokawa to start his own publishing business. Kadokawa's vice-president had determined that he no longer wanted the company to be associated with the kind of literature Dan Oniroku was famous for. So Mr. Kenjo started his own company and went on to become Dan's publisher.
The second speaker was Mr. Yonenaga Kunio, president of the Japan Shogi Association. It may not be widely known among Westerners, but Dan-sensei was an avid shogi player and once published a magazine devoted to the game. He also wrote books and essays about shogi and is, at least in some circles, as well known for this work as for his erotic fiction.
The next to speak was Tani Naomi herself.
While the two men's words had moments of levity, Tani's were serious and her sadness was palpable. I saw virtually no outward signs of emotion this day, but it did appear that Ms. Tani dabbed at her eyes a couple of times from my vantage point several meters behind her.
Dan sensei was married twice. His first marriage produced a son and a daughter but ended in divorce. He had another son with his second wife to whom he remained married until his death. Approximately 30 or so family members were present at the funeral.
Dan's eldest son, a tall handsome man, was the Chief Mourner and spoke during the final session.
After the first session, we retired to a large room off the main hall and gifts were handed out to the guests. I said hello to Saotome-san and my associate chatted for awhile with Naka-san.
I was concerned that this was not an appropriate venue, but I thought I might never have another chance to talk to Tani Naomi and ask to take a photo with her. She was sitting a few meters away at a table and talking quietly with people around her.
I made my way over and squatted down so that my head was lower than hers but a man sitting to my right quickly grabbed a chair for me. I took a seat, still trying to stay low, and told Ms. Tani that I was a fan and asked if she would allow me to take a picture with her.
She smiled and said sure, then stood up and my colleague snapped a couple of photos. I bowed and thanked her and then got the heck out of there.
We then returned to the main hall. Dan-sensei was now lying in a casket covered, except for his face, by a shroud of flowers.
We were each handed an additional flower and methodically made our way to Dan sensei. This was our opportunity to pay our personal respects to the man we had come this day to honor.
I approached the casket, flower in hand, and bowed. I then moved a bit closer and placed the flower inside the casket to the right side of Dan-sensei.
Up to this point I had not made any attempt to actually look at Dan-sensei's face. The fact of the matter is, this part of a funeral always makes me uncomfortable.
It also struck me as absurd that I was now, if only briefly, the closest person on Earth to Dan Oniroku. A complete stranger, I was, at least geographically, closer to him than anyone else. I felt unworthy.
I forced myself to look to my left.
I don't recall how many years it had been since I first became aware of the genius of Dan Oniroku. Perhaps 30. And now, after all this time, here I was, face-to-face with him. But he could not see me. His spirit was elsewhere.
I stepped back and bowed again, overwhelmed by the bitter realization that our first meeting would also be our last.
Addendum: The media payed a lot of attention to the attendance of Komukai Minako at Dan's funeral. Neither my colleague nor I were aware that Ms. Komukai had been sitting next to Tani Naomi the whole time. She apparently arrived just before the proceedings and kept a low profile throughout. I don't believe she made any comment to the media and left as mysteriously as she had appeared.
Other notables who attended either the wake or the funeral (or both) included: Takakura Miki, Ogawa Namiko, Azuma Terumi, Shimizu Kiriko, Kayama Shigeru, Osada Kazumi, Take Isao and Sugiura Norio. I'm sure there were others, but these are the ones I know about.