Japanese Funeral Traditions
Funerals in Japan
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. 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,
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). In recent years,
however, more and more Japanese families
have been choosing smaller, less expensive
options for funeral services. Ancestor worship
is also found in  Japan (as part of Shintoism)

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" . 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

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  
items the deceased was fond of (IE, 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).

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” 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.

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. Funerary
names typically use obsolete or archaic kanji words, to avoid the likelihood of the
name being used in ordinary speech or writing. 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 kanji
for these kaimyō are usually very old and rarely used ones, and few people
nowadays can read them. The new names are typically chosen by a Buddhist
priest, after consulting the family of the deceased. The new name bestowed upon
them is the name they will have in the afterlife, where they will train for 49 days to
become a disciple of Buddha.
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.

The coffin is placed on a tray in the crematorium. The family witnesses the sliding
of the body into the cremation chamber, then the family returns at the appointed

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 Japanese companies have
company graves in the largest graveyard in Japan, . These graves are for former
company employees and their relatives, and often have a gravestone related to the
company business. 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.
While many Western hearses are fairly similar, a different type can be
found in Japan. Some hearse automobiles are outfitted not with a coffin bay
but with a miniature, ornate Buddhist temple.
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