Japanese death and funerals explained

Why are Japanese hearses so gaudy and showy? Second Attempt

“a marvelous folly of black and gold lacquer…to resemble a portable shrine”

The Roads to Sata pg 151

Why sugar, green tea, seaweed, handkerchiefs, furikake rice seasoning for reihin funeral return gifts (礼品 れいひん) ?

My latest theory is that by giving someone something ordinary they need all the time you are saying that because successful people like them have all have everything they need already that is the only thing you could buy. They are also all things that you can get in any price range

Why is incense not more popular in Japan, despite a tradition of it?

For most people nowadays, incense is associated with funerals

Why do some people take family photos at a funeral?

When some people feel unable to take time off work even for a wedding, it might be the last time they get together, something made more obvious by the fact that one of them isn’t there

How can some young people take flowers back home from a funeral?

Obviously they have not the slightest residual belief in ghosts, ritual pollution- as an atheist brought up in a Christian country myself,I am intellectually impressed and emotionally revolted by the idea

Why do the guests not join in the chanting at a Buddhist funeral?

In some of the ‘new religions’ they do, which might explain why less religious people wouldn’t want to. There is also the possibility that they don’t know how,especially if they belong to a different form of Buddhism.

How do they fit a whole cremated body in a pot?

They can’t. The rest of the ashes are taken elsewhere by the 廃物回収者 (haibutsukaishuusha- ash collectors), and usually buried mixed together. 

Why do only close family go to the cremation?

Traditionally, when a body is cremated is supposed to be one of the times when a spirit could become dangerous, e.g. due to the body not being treated properly. Only the family attending both shows the dedication of the family by them taking the risk, and saves others from the danger.


  1. crella said,

    January 18, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Guests chanting along at the funeral would be like everyone saying a Mass along with the priest…it just isn’t done. The mourners chant daily for a prescribed number of days post-funeral. In the country it’s the full 49 days, in the cities, the first seven and then weekly at the taiya.

    Things that are used up and/or wear out and are thrown away were traditional for funerals, it was considered inappropriate and unlucky to have a ‘memento’ of a funeral in the shape of dishes, glasses etc. but that is changing now. It used to be seaweed, towels, handkerchiefs, and sugar.

  2. alexcase said,

    January 21, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Aha, the parallel to Catholics seems very apt, as in the new religions in Japan and protestantism the power of the priest is broken down and therefore the normal people take part in the chanting or hymns

  3. danielle said,

    January 22, 2009 at 10:14 am

    what is the attitude to death and dying? how long before the body is cremated?

  4. alexcase said,

    February 2, 2009 at 10:15 am

    Good question. In Korea it is three days, but as far as I remember from the book I read about a funeral parlour in Japan it is basically as soon as possible

  5. crella said,

    February 12, 2009 at 1:20 am

    “normal people take part in the chanting or hymns”

    Really? Interesting….Hubby’s family is in the inaka in Hyogo-ken, Shingonshu, only the priests chant until the very end. My ‘it just isn’t done’ applies only to old inaka communities :-)

  6. alexcase said,

    February 12, 2009 at 4:01 am

    Actually, maybe my statement only counts for cultish “rush hour of the gods” ones.

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