Japanese Funeral 101

What kind of funerals are there in Japan? How is the common funeral service being held?

It’s probably strange for all foreigners that Japanese celebrate just about any major Christian holidays even though under 5% are Christians in Japan. Japanese are mainly consisting of Buddhist but the national religion is Shinto.

Most of the funeral services are held under Buddhism rituals where monks arrive and read the sutra. There usually is a wake (on the evening) and the on the next day, the ceremony is held and the viewing. Then departure ritual.

Here, I will explain about the “regular” rituals of Buddhism very briefly. In many parts of Japan, there are minor differences. There is NO one right way and people should abide by the tradition of that area. The problem is that not too many people, even the undertakers understand this.

Over 95% are cremated after 24 hours. There is a law prohibiting of cremation within 24 hours due to chance of re-awakening but this is very rare, but still, if there is a slightest chance of survival, we cannot take any risks. There is a history and reason behind this.

Service starts by placing the deceased into the coffin. There is a ritual of cleansing the body of the dead and giving water (wetting the lips). There is a reason for wetting the lips as well and will explain on the later issues.

Then wake starts in the evening where monk will come and site a sutra for about an hour. People will burn incense to clean the soul and odor of the dead. Then leave for the night. The next day is the funeral service and the departure ritual.

Funeral service is where a monk will site a sutra and declares the person is dead and prays for rest in peace. The monk then gives the deceased a Buddhist name.

Then the departure ritual.

After the departure ritual, where viewing is held and flowers and few combustible items are placed in the coffin, undertaker will close the coffin lid and nail it shut. The survived family members will carry the coffin to the hearse. People will take a trip to the crematory, headed by the hearse and wait until bones. This takes about an hour to hour and a half, depending on the deceased.

After picking up the bones and placing them in the urn, they return home or usually, they hold another ceremony supposed to be held after 1 week of death, since it’s hard for all to gather again after a week, for convenience.

Then after the prayers, family will have a meal to say the mourning is over and return home with  the bones in the urn.

This is a very brief explanation of the common rituals of Japanese Buddhist funeral. But as I have stated before, there are minor differences within every part of Japan.

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