First and Foremost
If you've lost someone close to you in Japan or you've been invited to a kasoushiki, or cremation ceremony, my sincerest condolences. No doubt this is a sensitive time for you and your loved ones, whether it's a family member, a friend, or a colleague.
Things You Should Know When Attending a Cremation in Japan
In Japan, people are almost always cremated. In a traditional Buddhist ceremony, there are several steps involved. Here are things you should know when attending a cremation in Japan.
1. What to Wear
Importantly, you should know what to wear when you go to a funeral or cremation ceremony in Japan. The general rule is all black and formal.
Men wear black suits, white shirts, and a black tie with black shoes. Make sure the material of your shoes isn't shiny or bright. Take off any accessories, including wristwatches. Glasses are fine, but if possible, wear a darker colour.
Women can wear a suit or a black dress with tights and formal shoes, but nothing with shiny material. Wear minimal makeup and take off all accessories. Pearls are okay. If you take a handbag or purse, make sure it's also a formal black and doesn't have any shiny or flashy accessories, including a pregnancy badge or a shiny clasp.
2. What to Take
Like in Japanese weddings, people are expected to take condolence money (kouden) to help pay for funeral costs. The accepted amount is usually around 3,000 to 30,000 yen, depending on how close you are to the deceased. Of course, if you're a close family member of the deceased, you're not expected to pay.
Be sure to give an amount beginning with an odd number (1, 3, 5, etc.). This shows a separation from the living world to the next world. An even amount (such as 2,000 or 6,000 yen) would suggest that the grieving person will soon join them. Remember this superstition!
Apart from that, you can take flowers or small things such as fruit or burnable keepsakes (letters, etc.) to put into the deceased's coffin before it's cremated.
3. Before the Cremation
So you've shown up, now what? All attending members are gathered to see the body one last time before it's put into the cremation chamber. Bodies are often very well taken care of. Relatives might want to look, talk, or even touch the body (stroking their hair, cupping their cheek, etc.) and say a final goodbye. This is the time to put whatever keepsake or special item you'd like into the coffin. For example, at my father-in-law's cremation, we gave him peeled oranges, his favourite fruit, and his last packet of cigarettes.
Do whatever you feel comfortable doing. If you weren't close to the deceased, feel free to stand back and let the others do what they will. You can say "thank you" (arigatou gozaimasu), "goodbye" (sayounara), or "take care/take it easy" (yukkuri shite kudasai).
4. After the Cremation
You'll be shown to another room where you can sit and talk about the deceased and perhaps have some snacks and drink if the host has provided them. This is a time to talk about the person who has passed away and your fond memories of them. It's also the time to hand over the kouden condolence money.
5. How to Participate in the Ceremony
This part of the ceremony might be the most intimidating to those who have never attended a Japanese funeral or cremation ceremony before. When the body has been cremated, the bones are gathered and set on a table. Two people at a time, usually starting with the deceased's closest relatives, such as the children or spouse, move a bone with chopsticks into the cinerary urn. Everybody does this once.
The staff might then show several kinds of bones, explaining each piece, such as the top of the spine, the hip bone, or parts of the skull. The rest are then placed in the urn and wrapped in a white cloth, where they will stay at a relative's home and taken to the family grave within forty-nine days.
Ceremonies vary depending on the family's religion. This is an example of a Buddhist kasoushiki, where usually only family members and very close friends or colleagues attend. However, the rules for clothing and condolence money are the same. Now, if you're invited to a funeral or cremation, you might feel a little more prepared.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Poppy