Bright day. Early morning. A commemoration is to be held for a deceased family member.
The family is in charge of organizing the service. Before dawn, they set up a room with a white shrine and flowers... the family name as well as the person's own name is displayed above.
Guests and other families have been invited, and by sunrise they are slowly starting to arrive in order to pay their respects. To welcome them, the family of the deceased lines up alongside the room according to hierarchy, Yamamoto Kaicho first. Every member of the mourning family has a white paper flower attached to the jacket.
I stand in the doorway silently. I see the guests enter the room, burn incense for the departed, and say a prayer for his sake. After this, they proceed to an adjacent room where they sit and talk to the family boss, have a cup of tea, and smoke a cigarette.
At this point they pay their respects yet again by offering a ceremonial envelope with money inside. The precise amount of this gift is determined by a complex mixture of factors like relationships, business ties, a statement, personal friendships or past commemorations.
Souichirou tells me that often the deceased is mourned several times over different services, depending on practical circumstances, or even plain notoriety. I'm imagining the practical implications of organizing a single service in the center of a city with a Yakuza family consisting of several thousand members... In this case, it's the second commemoration, and also quite intimate. Nonetheless, the endless line of cars is quite impressive. There are several members on "traffic duty", redirecting (regular) traffic and providing parking space.
Every time the next line of cars approaches, Souichirou tells me which family it is, and a few words about or their relationship with them. I watch the members who are lower in rank exit their cars first, and form a line next to the road at the entrance of the shrine. A few seconds later, when the boss pulls up and exits his car, he is surrounded by family members. Everyone bows and greets while he walks past and enters the room.
The end of the day. It's over. The guests have gone, the rooms have been cleaned and everyone's ready to leave. Socho, the number one boss, is the first to go... his car drives up and he enters. Again, all members are lined up, this time to say goodbye. I feel a little uneasy, a tall westerner hanging around at the wrong place, having no clue what's going on.
The car is about to pass by, but then something happens: the car slows down to a stop, and the darkened back window opens to me. This is definitely not standard procedure, and quite a security risk too. I now see the godfather sitting there in his car, smiling and looking straight ahead. It takes me a second to realize why he does this... but then I get it.
I smile. I take the picture, I bow and pay my respects. The car drives off and disappears in the distance.