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Tea Leaves

Seeking the 'right' rite of passage

Space, cost and tradition dictate Japan's colorful funeral practices

A Buddhist nun offers prayers to Saint Kukai on Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture. (All photos by Stephen Mansfield)

For some people, death begins as a game. As a kid, the ultimate dare among my friends was to recline on the horizontal slab of a tomb in our suitably moldering local English graveyard. This grim rite of passage always took place at night, preferably with a full moon.

Hammer Horror films were popular at the time, with the actor Vincent Price playing the Transylvanian nobleman Count Dracula, complete with rictus grin and bloodless face. The count always wore a dashing cape, the black exterior symbolizing night, the red silk lining, the blood-engorged veins of young women. Or so I liked to imagine.

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