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A graveyard in Tokyo

A Japanese funeral includes a wake, the cremation of the deceased, a burial in a family grave, and a periodic memorial service. 99.81% of all deceased Japanese are cremated, according to 2007 statistics.[1] Most of these are then buried in a family grave, but scattering of the ashes has become more popular in recent years, including a burial at sea and even on rare occasions a burial in space. The average cost for a Japanese funeral is 4 million yen, the most expensive in the world. One main reason for the high cost is the scarcity of funeral plots (it is almost impossible to buy a grave in Tokyo). Another reason is the price gouging common at Japanese funeral homes, combined with the hesitation of the relatives of the deceased to negotiate and to compare prices.

Contents

Modern funerals

After death

While Japan has a mixture of Shintō and Buddhist beliefs, funerals are almost always Buddhist ceremonies, and 91% of the funerals are Buddhist style. After death, the deceased's lips are moistened with water, in a ceremony called "Water of the last moment" (末期の水 Matsugo-no-mizu ?). The household shrine is closed and covered with a white paper, to keep out the impure spirits of the dead. This is called Kamidana-fuji. A small table decorated with flowers, incense, and a candle is placed next to the deceased's bed. A knife may be put on the chest of the deceased to drive away evil spirits.

The relatives and the authorities are informed and a death certificate is issued. Organization of the funeral is usually the responsibility of the eldest son. A temple is contacted to schedule a funeral. It is believed by some that certain days are better for a funeral than others. For example, some days are known as tomobiki, literally "friend pulling", which is great for weddings, but to be avoided for funerals, as nobody wants to follow a dead person into the grave. The body is washed and the orifices are blocked with cotton or gauze. The last clothes are usually a suit for males and a kimono for females. A kimono for men is also sometimes used, but is less common. Make-up may also be applied to improve the appearance of the body. The body is put on dry ice in a casket, and a white kimono, sandals, six coins for the crossing of the River of Three Crossings, and burnable items the deceased was fond of (for example, cigarettes and candy) are placed in the casket. The casket is then put on an altar for the wake. The body is placed with its head towards the north or, as a second choice, towards the west (particularly in Buddhism, the west representing the western realm of Amida Buddha).

Wake

Traditional design of the envelope for condolence money
Funeral arrangement, with flower arrangements, a portrait of the deceased, and an ihai, a spirit tablet. The name and picture has been blurred for the deceased's privacy.

While in former times white clothes were worn for funerals, nowadays all guests for the funeral wear black. Men wear a black suit with a white shirt and a black tie, and women wear either a black dress or a black kimono. The black is of a special pitch-black shade. If the deceased family was an adherent to Buddhism, a set of prayer beads called juzu (数珠 ?) may be carried by the guests. A guest will bring condolence money in a special black and silver decorated envelope. Depending on the relation to the deceased and the wealth of the guest, this may be of a value equivalent to between 5,000 and 30,000 yen. The guests are seated, with the next of kin closest to the front. The Buddhist priest will then chant a section from a sutra. The family members will each in turn offer incense three times to the incense urn in front of the deceased. At the same time, the assembled guests will, in turn, perform the same ritual at another location behind the family members' seats. The wake ends once the priest has completed the sutra. Each departing guest is given a gift, which has a value of about half or one quarter of the condolence money received from this guest. The closest relatives may stay and keep vigil with the deceased overnight in the same room.

Funeral

The funeral is usually on the day after the wake. The procedure is similar to the wake, and incense is offered while a priest chants a sutra. The ceremony differs slightly as the deceased receives a new Buddhist name (kaimyō). This name supposedly prevents the return of the deceased if his name is called. The length and prestige of the name depends also on the size of the donation of the relatives to the temple, which may range from a cheap and free name to the most elaborate names for 1 million yen or more. The high prices charged by the temples are a controversial issue in Japan, especially since some temples put pressure on families to buy a more expensive name. The kanji for these kaimyō are usually very old and rarely used ones, and few people nowadays can read them. At the end of the funeral ceremony, the guests and family may place flowers in the casket around the deceased's head and shoulders before the casket is sealed and carried to the elaborately decorated hearse and transported to the crematorium. In some regions of Japan, the coffin is nailed shut by the mourners using a stone.

Cremation

Cremation in Japan, illustration from 1867
Picking the bones from the ashes, illustration from 1867
Bone-picking ceremony

The coffin is placed on a tray in the crematorium. The family witnesses the sliding of the body into the cremation chamber. A cremation usually takes about two hours, and the family returns at a scheduled time when the cremation has been completed. According to the Yamaguchi Saijo Funeral Parlor and Crematorium in Sapporo, it takes about an hour and a half to cremate an adult body, 45 minutes for a child, 15 minutes for a stillborn baby.

The relatives pick the bones out of the ashes and transfer them to the urn using large chopsticks or metal picks, two relatives sometimes holding the same bone at the same time with their chopsticks (or, according to some sources, passing the bones from chopsticks to chopsticks). This is the only time in Japan when it is proper for two people to hold the same item at the same time with chopsticks. At all other times, holding anything with chopsticks by two people at the same time, or passing an item from chopsticks to chopsticks will remind all bystanders of the funeral of a close relative and is considered to be a major social faux pas. The bones of the feet are picked up first, and the bones of the head last. This is to ensure that the deceased is not upside down in the urn. The hyoid bone (a bone located in the neck) is the most significant bone to be put in the urn.

In some cases, the ashes may be divided between more than one urn, for example if part of the ashes are to go to a family grave, and another part to the temple, or even to a company grave or a burial in space. Many companies have company graves in the largest graveyard in Japan, Okuno-In on Mount Kōya, burial place of Kūkai (774 - 835). These graves are for former company employees and their relatives, and often have a gravestone related to the company business. For example, the coffee company UCC has a gravestone in the shape of a coffee cup, and a metal rocket sits on top of the gravesite of an aeronautics company.

Depending on the local custom the urn may stay at the family home for a number of days, or be taken directly to the graveyard.

Grave

A typical Japanese grave
The name of a living spouse written in red

A typical Japanese grave is usually a family grave (Japanese: 墓,haka) consisting of a stone monument, with a place for flowers, incense, and water in front of the monument and a chamber or crypt underneath for the ashes.

The date of the erection of the grave and the name of the person who purchased it may be engraved on the side of the monument. The names of the deceased are often but not always engraved on the front of the monument. When a married person dies before his or her spouse, the name of the spouse may also be engraved on the stone, with the letters painted red. After the death and the burial of the spouse the red ink is removed from the stone. This is usually done for financial reasons, as it is cheaper to engrave two names at the same time than to engrave the second name when the second spouse dies. It can also be seen as a sign that they are waiting to follow their spouse into the grave. However, this practice is less frequent nowadays. The names of the deceased may also be engraved on the left side, or on a separate stone in front of the grave. Often, the name is also written on a sotoba, a separate wooden board on a stand behind or next to the grave. These sotoba may be erected shortly after death, and new ones may be added at certain memorial services.

Some graves may also have a box for business cards, where friends and relatives visiting the grave can drop their business card, informing the caretakers of the grave of the respects the visitors have paid to the deceased.

The high prices of funeral plots, costing on average 2 million yen, have led to a new service of Grave Apartments (Ohaka no manshon), where a locker-sized grave can be purchased for about 400,000 yen. Some of these may even include a touch screen showing a picture of the deceased, messages, a family tree, and other information. Due to the cost of land, a graveyard in Tokyo has recently been opened by a temple in floors 3 to 8 of a nine story building, where the lower floors are for funeral ceremonies.

There are a number of cases where the ashes of deceased persons have been stolen from graves. The ashes of famous cartoonist Machiko Hasegawa and of the wife of real estate chairman Takichi Hayasaka were stolen for ransom. The ashes of famous novelist Yukio Mishima (1925 - 1970) were stolen in 1971 and the ashes of novelist Naoya Shiga were stolen in 1980. The ashes of the wife of the baseball player Sadaharu Oh went missing in December 2002.[2]

Memorial services

Memorial services depend on local customs. Usually, there are a number of memorial services following the death - for example, daily for the first seven days, or a number of services within the first 49 days, or on the 7th, 49th and 100th day, depending on the local custom. After that, there is a memorial service on the Obon festival in honor of the dead. The festival may be held in the 1st year, sometimes in the 3rd and 5th, 7th and 13th years, and a number of times afterwards up to either the 39th or the 50th year. One popular sequence follows the days of the Thirteen Buddhas.

A picture of the deceased is also placed at or near the family altar in the household. Also, in the first year after death, no traditional New Year's Day Postcard is sent or received. The friends and relatives have to be informed of this beforehand so as not to send a card.

Japanese funeral industry

Funerals in Japan are among the most expensive funerals in the world. The average cost of a Japanese funeral is about 1.5 million yen (USD 14,000) according to a 2003 study by the Japan Consumer's Association, though other sources state 3.8 million yen. This cost does not include mandatory additional services such as about 380,000 yen for the wake, or 480,000 yen for the services of the priest. Overall, the industry has a revenue of about 1.5 trillion yen with about 45,000 funeral homes. In 2004, 1.1 million Japanese died (2003: 1.0 million), a number that is expected to rise in the future due to the increase of the average age in Japan; see demographics of Japan. Funeral Business Monthly estimates that there will be 1.7 million deaths by 2035, and revenue of 2 trillion yen in 2040.

There are a number of reasons for the high cost of funerals. First, prices in Japan are generally among the highest in the world. A bigger reason, however, is that the relatives of the deceased are very hesitant to negotiate prices of a funeral service, and also do not compare prices, as they do not want to give the opinion that they are cheap about their relative. This situation is abused by funeral companies, which sell rather expensive and often-unspecific packages, matched more to the funds of the deceased family than to the actual services provided. Often, aggressive sales tactics push the relatives towards expensive contracts. In many cases, there is not even the mentioning of a price until the funeral is over. A 2005 Fair Trade Commission study found that 36% of the customers did not receive a quote before being charged and 96% felt that the free selection of services was inadequate, and many decisions were made for them. 54.4% of the funeral services offered price lists and catalogs to choose between different options.

Recently there have been some changes in the funeral industry, and some funeral homes offer more competitive and transparent pricing than a standard funeral provider. These offer funerals starting at about 200,000 yen, a fraction of the regular overpriced services, and lists the different options and prices to choose from a la carte. Many of these new funeral homes are started by non-Japanese nationals. Also, recently hotels with a decreasing income due to a decrease in weddings have started to offer funeral services. Overall, the level of competition is increasing. To stay competitive, the prices of regular funeral homes are also decreasing over time. Another recent introduction are services, where a person can choose his or her funeral service before death, and pays a monthly fee (e.g. 10,000 yen) to cover all costs of the funeral.

History

The Ishibutai Kofun in Asuka, Nara, a partially uncovered Kofun

In Japanese history, famous leaders were often buried in tombs. The oldest known burial chamber was that built between 230 BC and 220 BC in Sakurai, Nara prefecture, and called the Hokenoyama tomb. The tomb is 80 m long, and the chamber is 7 m long and 2.7 m wide, and contained a coffin 5 m long and 1 m wide. It is not known exactly who is buried there, but it is presumed to be a powerful local leader.

Around 300, the usage of burial mounds for important leaders became more frequent. Japan developed its unique keyhole shaped burial mounds. These burial mounds are called Kofun (古墳 - the word is used for burial mounds of all shapes), and the period from 250 to 538 is called the Kofun period. Although it was believed around 50 years ago that these mounds had initially been influenced by burial mounds in From China via the Korean peninsula, Yayoi period mounds are generally regarded as their predecessors. There is a large number of these burial mounds all over Japan, most of which have a keyhole shaped outline with a length of up to 400 m. The largest is the tomb of Emperor Nintoku in Sakai near Osaka, with a length of 486 m, covering an area of 300,000 square metres. They are usually surrounded by a moat, unless they are constructed on a hill. The round half of the burial mound contains a burial chamber. In the 6th century, round and square burial mounds came into use. The usage of burial mounds is believed to have gradually stopped either with the introduction of Buddhism in Japan in 552 or 538, or with the establishment of the capital in Nara by Empress Gemmei in 710. Instead, family tombs were constructed with an access passage to add relatives to the tomb after their death. Traditionally, the handling of deceased was considered unclean business and were usually done by Burakumin.

Medieval Sōtō Zen funerals

Japanese Buddhist funerals, which make up the vast majority of Japanese funerals today, are generally performed in what was historically the Sōtō Zen style, although today the Sōtō funerary rites have come to define the standard funeral format by most of the other Japanese Buddhist schools. Japanese Zen funeral rites came directly from Chinese Ch’an funeral rites, which were detailed in the Chanyuan Qinggui (“the pure regulations of the Zen monastery”). The major difference between the earlier Chinese Ch’an funerals and Japanese Sōtō Zen funerals was that early Japanese monks made no distinction between a monastic funeral for an abbot and the funeral service for a layperson. The first Japanese laypeople to receive Zen funerals were among the ruling elite who sponsored the activities of Zen institutions.[3] One early example of this is the Regent Hōjō Tokimune, who received monastic funeral rites in 1284 at the hands of Chinese monk Wuxue Zuyan.[4] Zen historian Martin Collcutt asserts that “one means by which Zen monks extended their influence in society was by the conduct of funeral services for important patrons.”[5] By the medieval Sōtō period, only a small percentage of the funeral sermons recorded were delivered for members of the monastic order.[6]

The progressive changes in Sōtō Zen funeral rites were not enacted by its founder, Dogen, but came about years later when Zen master Keizan encouraged Zen monks to go out into the countryside and perform funeral services for the laity. Although Dogen was the first to implement many aspects of Chinese Ch’an monastic codes in Japan, his gogoku doesn’t contain any funeral sermons.[7] At this point in Japanese history, different schools of Zen were in competition for followers, and they were “more conscious than ever before of the necessity of making available to the laity such rites as funeral services and ancestor worship.”[8] Keizan’s inclusive attitudes toward funerals resulted in the building of many temples in rural areas and the gradual expansion of the Sōtō order throughout Japan.[9]

The funeral service that became popular for the Japanese laity in the medieval period was essentially the Chinese Ch’an service specified for the ordinary monk. The most important phases of this type of Zen funeral were: posthumous ordination, the sermon at the side of the corpse, the circumambulation of the coffin around the cremation ground, and the lighting of the funeral pyre.[10] For a lay person, the posthumous ordination part of the ritual was the most vital, because without ordaining the deceased as a Zen monk, the other funeral rites could not be performed, since Zen funeral rites did not previously exist for laypeople, but only for monks. Once posthumous ordination of the laity was accepted by the Sōtō school, lay funeral practices became possible; today, death rituals mark the central practice at Sōtō Zen parish temples.[11] This practice was one of the first few elements of Sōtō Zen that was standardized by the early Tokugawa period.[12] Since the popularization of Sōtō Zen in medieval Japan, Sōtō Zen funeral practices have been a significant point of contact between the monks and laity, and continue to play an important role in lay religious life today.

Films

  • Ososhiki (Funeral), a film by Juzo Itami, depicts a Japanese family going through the traditional funeral rituals upon death of one of their relatives.
  • Okuribito, a 2008 film by Yōjirō Takita, tells a story of an out of work cellist who an employment ad for a funeral home.

See also

References

  1. ^ Cremation Society of G.B. - International Cremation Statistics 2007
  2. ^ http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jul/04/sports/sp-oh4?pg=4
  3. ^ William M. Bodiford, "Zen in the Art of Funerals: Ritual Salvation in Japanese Buddhism," History of Religions 32, no. 2 (1992): 152.
  4. ^ Bodiford, "Zen in the Art of Funerals," 152.
  5. ^ Martin Collcutt, Five Mountains: The Rinzai Zen Monastic Institution in Medieval Japan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), 73.
  6. ^ William M Bodiford, Sōtō Zen in Medieval Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993), 199.
  7. ^ Bodiford, Soto Zen in Medieval Japan, 191.
  8. ^ Yasuaki Nara, "May the Deceased Get Enlightenment! An Aspect of the Enculturation of Buddhism in Japan," Buddhist-Christian Studies 15 (1995): 25.
  9. ^ Nara, "May the Deceased Get Enlightenment!," 25.
  10. ^ Bernard Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), 193.
  11. ^ Duncan Ryuken Williams, The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Soto Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2005), 38.
  12. ^ Williams, The Other Side of Zen, 41.

External links


[[File:|thumb|A graveyard in Tokyo]]

A Japanese funeral includes a wake, the cremation of the deceased, a burial in a family grave, and a periodic memorial service. 99.81% of all deceased Japanese are cremated, according to 2007 statistics.[1] Most of these are then buried in a family grave, but scattering of the ashes has become more popular in recent years, including a burial at sea and even on rare occasions a burial in space. The average cost for a Japanese funeral is 2.3 million yen,[2] one of the most expensive in the world. One main reason for the high cost is the scarcity of funeral plots (it is almost impossible to buy a grave in Tokyo). Another reason is the price gouging common at Japanese funeral homes, combined with the hesitation of the relatives of the deceased to negotiate and to compare prices. In recent years, however, more and more Japanese families have been choosing smaller, less expensive options for funeral services.[3]

Contents

Modern funerals

After death

While Japan has a mixture of Shintō and Buddhist beliefs, funerals are almost always Buddhist ceremonies, and 91% of the funerals are Buddhist style. After death, the deceased's lips are moistened with water, in a ceremony called "Water of the last moment" (末期の水 Matsugo-no-mizu?). The household shrine is closed and covered with a white paper, to keep out the impure spirits of the dead. This is called Kamidana-fuji. A small table decorated with flowers, incense, and a candle is placed next to the deceased's bed. A knife may be put on the chest of the deceased to drive away evil spirits.

The relatives and the authorities are informed and a death certificate is issued. Organization of the funeral is usually the responsibility of the eldest son. A temple is contacted to schedule a funeral. It is believed by some that certain days are better for a funeral than others. For example, some days are known as tomobiki, literally "friend pulling", which is great for weddings, but to be avoided for funerals, as nobody wants to follow a dead person into the grave. The body is washed and the orifices are blocked with cotton or gauze. The last clothes are usually a suit for males and a kimono for females. A kimono for men is also sometimes used, but is less common. Make-up may also be applied to improve the appearance of the body. The body is put on dry ice in a casket, and a white kimono, sandals, six coins for the crossing of the River of Three Crossings, and burnable items the deceased was fond of (for example, cigarettes and candy) are placed in the casket. The casket is then put on an altar for the wake. The body is placed with its head towards the north or, as a second choice, towards the west (particularly in Buddhism, the west representing the western realm of Amida Buddha).

Wake

[[File:|thumb|left|Traditional design of the envelope for condolence money]]

File:The altar of the Japanese Buddhism-style funeral,saidan,
Funeral arrangement, with flower arrangements, a portrait of the deceased, and an ihai, a spirit tablet. The name and picture has been blurred for the deceased's privacy.

While in former times white clothes were worn for funerals, nowadays all guests for the funeral wear black. Men wear a black suit with a white shirt and a black tie, and women wear either a black dress or a black kimono. The black is of a special pitch-black shade. If the deceased family was an adherent to Buddhism, a set of prayer beads called juzu (数珠?) may be carried by the guests. A guest will bring condolence money in a special black and silver decorated envelope. Depending on the relation to the deceased and the wealth of the guest, this may be of a value equivalent to between 3,000 and 30,000 yen. The guests are seated, with the next of kin closest to the front. The Buddhist priest will then chant a section from a sutra. The family members will each in turn offer incense three times to the incense urn in front of the deceased. At the same time, the assembled guests will, in turn, perform the same ritual at another location behind the family members' seats. The wake ends once the priest has completed the sutra. Each departing guest is given a gift, which has a value of about half or one quarter of the condolence money received from this guest. The closest relatives may stay and keep vigil with the deceased overnight in the same room.

Funeral

The funeral is usually on the day after the wake. The procedure is similar to the wake, and incense is offered while a priest chants a sutra. The ceremony differs slightly as the deceased receives a new Buddhist name (kaimyō). This name supposedly prevents the return of the deceased if his name is called. The length and prestige of the name depends also on either the virtue of the person's lifespan, or more commonly, the size of the donation of the relatives to the temple, which may range from a cheap and free name to the most elaborate names for 1 million yen or more. The high prices charged by the temples are a controversial issue in Japan, especially since some temples put pressure on families to buy a more expensive name. The kanji for these kaimyō are usually very old and rarely used ones, and few people nowadays can read them. At the end of the funeral ceremony, the guests and family may place flowers in the casket around the deceased's head and shoulders before the casket is sealed and carried to the elaborately decorated hearse and transported to the crematorium. In some regions of Japan, the coffin is nailed shut by the mourners using a stone.

Cremation

File:Cremation in Japan-J. M. W.
Cremation in Japan, illustration from 1867
File:Collecting the ashes after the funeral -J. M. W.
Picking the bones from the ashes, illustration from 1867
[[File:|thumb|Bone-picking ceremony]]

The coffin is placed on a tray in the crematorium. The family witnesses the sliding of the body into the cremation chamber. A cremation usually takes about two hours, and the family returns at a scheduled time when the cremation has been completed. According to the Yamaguchi Saijo Funeral Parlor and Crematorium in Sapporo, it takes about an hour and a half to cremate an adult body, 45 minutes for a child, 15 minutes for a stillborn baby.

The relatives pick the bones out of the ashes and transfer them to the urn using large chopsticks or metal picks, two relatives sometimes holding the same bone at the same time with their chopsticks (or, according to some sources, passing the bones from chopsticks to chopsticks). This is the only time in Japan when it is proper for two people to hold the same item at the same time with chopsticks. At all other times, holding anything with chopsticks by two people at the same time, or passing an item from chopsticks to chopsticks will remind all bystanders of the funeral of a close relative and is considered to be a major social faux pas. The bones of the feet are picked up first, and the bones of the head last. This is to ensure that the deceased is not upside down in the urn. The hyoid bone (a bone located in the neck) is the most significant bone to be put in the urn.

In some cases, the ashes may be divided between more than one urn, for example if part of the ashes are to go to a family grave, and another part to the temple, or even to a company grave or a burial in space. Many companies have company graves in the largest graveyard in Japan, Okuno-In on Mount Kōya, burial place of Kūkai (774 - 835). These graves are for former company employees and their relatives, and often have a gravestone related to the company business. For example, the coffee company UCC has a gravestone in the shape of a coffee cup, and a metal rocket sits on top of the gravesite of an aeronautics company.[citation needed]

Depending on the local custom the urn may stay at the family home for a number of days, or be taken directly to the graveyard.

Grave

[[File:|thumb|left|A typical Japanese grave]][[File:|thumb|The name of a living spouse written in red]]

A typical Japanese grave is usually a family grave (Japanese: 墓,haka) consisting of a stone monument, with a place for flowers, incense, and water in front of the monument and a chamber or crypt underneath for the ashes.

The date of the erection of the grave and the name of the person who purchased it may be engraved on the side of the monument. The names of the deceased are often but not always engraved on the front of the monument. When a married person dies before his or her spouse, the name of the spouse may also be engraved on the stone, with the letters painted red. After the death and the burial of the spouse the red ink is removed from the stone. This is usually done for financial reasons, as it is cheaper to engrave two names at the same time than to engrave the second name when the second spouse dies. It can also be seen as a sign that they are waiting to follow their spouse into the grave. However, this practice is less frequent nowadays. The names of the deceased may also be engraved on the left side, or on a separate stone in front of the grave. Often, the name is also written on a sotoba, a separate wooden board on a stand behind or next to the grave. These sotoba may be erected shortly after death, and new ones may be added at certain memorial services.

Some graves may also have a box for business cards, where friends and relatives visiting the grave can drop their business card, informing the caretakers of the grave of the respects the visitors have paid to the deceased.

The high prices of funeral plots, costing on average 2 million yen, have led to a new service of Grave Apartments (Ohaka no manshon), where a locker-sized grave can be purchased for about 400,000 yen. Some of these may even include a touch screen showing a picture of the deceased, messages, a family tree, and other information. Due to the cost of land, a graveyard in Tokyo has recently been opened by a temple in floors 3 to 8 of a nine story building, where the lower floors are for funeral ceremonies.[citation needed]

There are a number of cases where the ashes of deceased persons have been stolen from graves. The ashes of famous cartoonist Machiko Hasegawa and of the wife of real estate chairman Takichi Hayasaka were stolen for ransom. The ashes of famous novelist Yukio Mishima (1925–1970) were stolen in 1971 and the ashes of novelist Naoya Shiga were stolen in 1980. The ashes of the wife of the baseball player Sadaharu Oh went missing in December 2002.[4]

Memorial services

Memorial services depend on local customs. Usually, there are a number of memorial services following the death - for example, daily for the first seven days, or a number of services within the first 49 days, or on the 7th, 49th and 100th day, depending on the local custom. After that, there is a memorial service on the Obon festival in honor of the dead. The festival may be held in the 1st year, sometimes in the 3rd and 5th, 7th and 13th years, and a number of times afterwards up to either the 39th or the 50th year. One popular sequence follows the days of the Thirteen Buddhas.

A picture of the deceased is also placed at or near the family altar in the household. Also, in the first year after death, no traditional New Year's Day Postcard is sent or received. The friends and relatives have to be informed of this beforehand so as not to send a card.

Japanese funeral industry

Funerals in Japan are among the most expensive funerals in the world. The average cost of a Japanese funeral is about 2.31 million yen (USD 25,000) according to a 2008 study by the Japan Consumer's Association [5] This cost includes services such as 401,000 yen for catering to attendants and 549,000 yen for services of the priest. Overall, the industry has a revenue of about 1.5 trillion yen with about 45,000 funeral homes. In 2004, 1.1 million Japanese died (2003: 1.0 million), a number that is expected to rise in the future due to the increase of the average age in Japan; see demographics of Japan. Funeral Business Monthly estimates that there will be 1.7 million deaths by 2035, and revenue of 2 trillion yen in 2040.

There are a number of reasons for the high cost of funerals. First, prices in Japan are generally among the highest in the world. A bigger reason, however, is that the relatives of the deceased are very hesitant to negotiate prices of a funeral service, and also do not compare prices, as they do not want to give the opinion that they are cheap about their relative. This situation is abused by funeral companies, which sell rather expensive and often-unspecific packages, matched more to the funds of the deceased family than to the actual services provided. Often, aggressive sales tactics push the relatives towards expensive contracts. In many cases, there is not even the mentioning of a price until the funeral is over. A 2005 Fair Trade Commission study found that 36% of the customers did not receive a quote before being charged and 96% felt that the free selection of services was inadequate, and many decisions were made for them. 54.4% of the funeral services offered price lists and catalogs to choose between different options.

Recently there have been some changes in the funeral industry, and some funeral homes offer more competitive and transparent pricing than a standard funeral provider. These offer funerals starting at about 200,000 yen, a fraction of the regular overpriced services, and lists the different options and prices to choose from a la carte. Many of these new funeral homes are started by non-Japanese nationals. Also, recently hotels with a decreasing income due to a decrease in weddings have started to offer funeral services. Overall, the level of competition is increasing. To stay competitive, the prices of regular funeral homes are also decreasing over time. Another recent introduction are services where a person can choose his or her funeral service before death, and pays a monthly fee (e.g. 10,000 yen) to cover all costs of the funeral.

History

File:Asuka Ishibutai Kofun
The Ishibutai Kofun in Asuka, Nara, a partially uncovered Kofun

In Japanese history, famous leaders were often buried in tombs. The oldest known burial chamber was that built between 230 BC and 220 BC in Sakurai, Nara prefecture, and called the Hokenoyama tomb. The tomb is 80 m long, and the chamber is 7 m long and 2.7 m wide, and contained a coffin 5 m long and 1 m wide. It is not known exactly who is buried there, but it is presumed to be a powerful local leader.

Around 300, the usage of burial mounds for important leaders became more frequent. Japan developed its unique keyhole shaped burial mounds. These burial mounds are called Kofun (古墳 - the word is used for burial mounds of all shapes), and the period from 250 to 538 is called the Kofun period. Although it was believed around 50 years ago that these mounds had initially been influenced by burial mounds in From China via the Korean peninsula, Yayoi period mounds are generally regarded as their predecessors. There is a large number of these burial mounds all over Japan, most of which have a keyhole shaped outline with a length of up to 400 m. The largest is the tomb of Emperor Nintoku in Sakai near Osaka, with a length of 486 m, covering an area of 300,000 square metres. They are usually surrounded by a moat, unless they are constructed on a hill. The round half of the burial mound contains a burial chamber. In the 6th century, round and square burial mounds came into use. The usage of burial mounds is believed to have gradually stopped either with the introduction of Buddhism in Japan in 552 or 538, or with the establishment of the capital in Nara by Empress Gemmei in 710. Instead, family tombs were constructed with an access passage to add relatives to the tomb after their death. Traditionally, the handling of deceased was considered unclean business and were usually done by Burakumin.

Medieval Sōtō Zen funerals

Japanese Buddhist funerals, which make up the vast majority of Japanese funerals today, are generally performed in what was historically the Sōtō Zen style, although today the Sōtō funerary rites have come to define the standard funeral format by most of the other Japanese Buddhist schools. Japanese Zen funeral rites came directly from Chinese Ch’an funeral rites, which were detailed in the Chanyuan Qinggui (“the pure regulations of the Zen monastery”). The major difference between the earlier Chinese Ch’an funerals and Japanese Sōtō Zen funerals was that early Japanese monks made no distinction between a monastic funeral for an abbot and the funeral service for a layperson. The first Japanese laypeople to receive Zen funerals were among the ruling elite who sponsored the activities of Zen institutions.[6] One early example of this is the Regent Hōjō Tokimune, who received monastic funeral rites in 1284 at the hands of Chinese monk Wuxue Zuyan.[7] Zen historian Martin Collcutt asserts that “one means by which Zen monks extended their influence in society was by the conduct of funeral services for important patrons.”[8] By the medieval Sōtō period, only a small percentage of the funeral sermons recorded were delivered for members of the monastic order.[9]

The progressive changes in Sōtō Zen funeral rites were not enacted by its founder, Dogen, but came about years later when Zen master Keizan encouraged Zen monks to go out into the countryside and perform funeral services for the laity. Although Dogen was the first to implement many aspects of Chinese Ch’an monastic codes in Japan, his gogoku doesn’t contain any funeral sermons.[10] At this point in Japanese history, different schools of Zen were in competition for followers, and they were “more conscious than ever before of the necessity of making available to the laity such rites as funeral services and ancestor worship.”[11] Keizan’s inclusive attitudes toward funerals resulted in the building of many temples in rural areas and the gradual expansion of the Sōtō order throughout Japan.[12]

The funeral service that became popular for the Japanese laity in the medieval period was essentially the Chinese Ch’an service specified for the ordinary monk. The most important phases of this type of Zen funeral were: posthumous ordination, the sermon at the side of the corpse, the circumambulation of the coffin around the cremation ground, and the lighting of the funeral pyre.[13] For a lay person, the posthumous ordination part of the ritual was the most vital, because without ordaining the deceased as a Zen monk, the other funeral rites could not be performed, since Zen funeral rites did not previously exist for laypeople, but only for monks. Once posthumous ordination of the laity was accepted by the Sōtō school, lay funeral practices became possible; today, death rituals mark the central practice at Sōtō Zen parish temples.[14] This practice was one of the first few elements of Sōtō Zen that was standardized by the early Tokugawa period.[15] Since the popularization of Sōtō Zen in medieval Japan, Sōtō Zen funeral practices have been a significant point of contact between the monks and laity, and continue to play an important role in lay religious life today.

Films

  • The Funeral, a film by Juzo Itami, depicts a Japanese family going through the traditional funeral rituals upon death of one of their relatives.
  • Departures, a 2008 film by Yōjirō Takita, tells a story of an out of work cellist who answers an employment advertisement for a funeral home.

See also

References

  1. ^ Cremation Society of G.B. - International Cremation Statistics 2007
  2. ^ "Japan's funerals deep-rooted mix of ritual, form". July 28, 2009. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090728i1.html. 
  3. ^ "Japan's funerals deep-rooted mix of ritual, form". July 28, 2009. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090728i1.html. 
  4. ^ Wallace, Bruce (July 4, 2007). "Home run king and gentleman". The Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jul/04/sports/sp-oh4?pg=4. 
  5. ^ "Japan's funerals deep-rooted mix of ritual, form". July 28, 2009. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090728i1.html. 
  6. ^ William M. Bodiford, "Zen in the Art of Funerals: Ritual Salvation in Japanese Buddhism," History of Religions 32, no. 2 (1992): 152.
  7. ^ Bodiford, "Zen in the Art of Funerals," 152.
  8. ^ Martin Collcutt, Five Mountains: The Rinzai Zen Monastic Institution in Medieval Japan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), 73.
  9. ^ William M Bodiford, Sōtō Zen in Medieval Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993), 199.
  10. ^ Bodiford, Soto Zen in Medieval Japan, 191.
  11. ^ Nara, Yasuaki (1995). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "May the Deceased Get Enlightenment! An Aspect of the Enculturation of Buddhism in Japan"]. Buddhist-Christian Studies 15: 25. 
  12. ^ Nara, "May the Deceased Get Enlightenment!," 25.
  13. ^ Bernard Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), 193.
  14. ^ Duncan Ryuken Williams, The Other Side of Zen: A Social History of Soto Zen Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2005), 38.
  15. ^ Williams, The Other Side of Zen, 41.

External links








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