The Japanese follow two religious traditions: the ancient native Shinto ones and the more 'recent' ones of Buddhism. Shinto rites are followed for the more celebratory occasions, while Buddhism is turned to for the solace it offers, particularly in times of bereavement. Therefore, weddings, for example, are traditionally Shinto, while funerals are Buddhist.
Buddhism requires that the dead be regularly commemorated at set intervals of years. The following sound file is of part of a Buddhist memorial service for the dead, known as a hohji.
The hohji is, as might be expected, a very solemn service. The family of the deceased kneel on the floor right in front of the main altar while the monks chant and perform the required rituals. The chanting is harmonic and rhythmic, bordering on the eerie, and to it is added the occasional lone deep toll of a great bell. It is borne along by a constant bass thumping of a drum in perfect heartbeat rhythm, but so soft that it goes straight into the senses almost without being consciously heard.
The picture below is of the wooden memorial tablet for the deceased, placed outside the front of the temple at the end of the hohji by a priest.
June 25, 2006.