Are funerals growing obsolete?


You step inside and, at first glance, it looks like any other hotel lobby, but the uniformed concierge who answers the check-in clerk’s call leads you to a door that opens on a white-walled, 10-mat room in the center of which is a coffin. There is no polite way to say this. The Sousou Hotel in Kawasaki accommodates dead bodies. It’s part of an already large, rapidly spreading infrastructure for a rising trend: death with stripped-down funerals. Or no funerals at all.

Death is not what it used to be. It can’t possibly be, says Shukan Post (April 21). The sheer numbers militate against it – of the dying, the aging, the solitary who have no family near at hand (or anywhere) to see to last rites and tend ancestral graves with the loving care once taken for granted.

Health ministry statistics tell part of the tale. In 2015, there were 1.3 million deaths nationwide. In 2030, there will likely be 1.6 million. As more and more people live alone, more and more people die alone. In 2030, the ministry says, 27 million senior citizens will be looking ahead to a solitary death, perhaps unnoticed for days or weeks.

The elderly of past generations faced death with comforting thoughts of friends and loved ones seeing them off with rites of mourning – a wake, a funeral, prayers at fixed intervals, graveside visits by children and grandchildren. That still happens, but no longer as a matter of course. Even a loving family finds itself up against a demographic wall. The crematoria are swamped. They have more business than they can handle. At one end of the age scale: a waiting list to get into daycare facilities. At the other end: a waiting list to get cremated.

“When my mother died last year, the crematorium said we’d have to wait 10 days,” a 55-year-old company employee tells Shukan Post. “Dry ice won’t keep a body intact for 10 days. Reluctantly, I gave up on taking her home and left her with them. Thinking of her in something like a refrigerator for 10 days was very painful.”

The Sousou Hotel is run by Hisao Takekishi, who saw a growing number of people who for one reason and another could not be sped from deathbed to funeral and beyond. Interim accommodation for corpses sounds morbid but serves a growing purpose. When he opened for business in October 2014, he waited a long time for his first client. Slowly the initial aversion wore off. In 2015, he saw a 73% occupancy rate; in 2016, 90%. The average stay, at 9,000 yen a day, is 3-4 days.

The funeral is evolving. It may be evolving out of existence. Attempts to preserve it include new thinking on traditionally (by the Buddhist calendar) unlucky days for funerals. Maybe they’re lucky after all. They are in one sense: the crematoria are largely unbooked on those days. As more people in this less superstitious age take advantage of that, the opening is likely to be temporary.

Perhaps in the end it won’t matter. If prayer is a movement of the heart and burial a mere disposal problem, the proliferating internet rent-a-priest services, or organizations that take charge, with presumably varying degrees of ritual respect, of the ashes of the deceased, need not rob death of its solemnity. Nor is it trivial that the costs involved are a fraction of those of traditional funerals.

© Japan Today

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The article is a bit misleading in its myopia. Funerals aren't growing obsolete. They can't. Humans will always need some kind of ritual to mark the end of the lives of their loved ones. What may be growing obsolete is the industry surrounding the funerary customs peculiar to Japan.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

The complex and overly expensive Japanese funeral is becoming obsolete. I don't want a funeral, I'd rather any money be spent on a good piss up at the wake for my family and friends. Burn me on a so called unlucky day - what does it matter when you are dead.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

notagain- Agreed.

Way too many businesses in Japan get to rip people off for no other reasons than lack of choice or social pressure ("Well that's what every one else does").

Cremate me in the cheapest way possible and then bury my ashes somewhere with a great view. Spend a LOT of money on a wake.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Once I am dead my body is of no account. My family doesn't need to spend a lot on me. Have a party at my favorite cafe. Talk about the great things we did together, the love we shared and the nonsense we got into. Remember me as I was. Burn the shell and spread the ashes somewhere nice. Enough.

I don't believe in an afterlife, bad luck days, superstition. I am mortal. When I am dead, nothing else will matter to me ever again. So my family should not worry over such nonsense.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Two deceased friends inspired me to do away with an expensive Japanese-style funeral. One had the cheapest funeral the funeral home could offer: home-made art, no Buddhist priest chanting words no one understands, no super-expensive flowers to be tossed the next day, her family supplied the music rather than buy the funeral home's expensive package, etc.

The second donated her body to the local university medical school. I've looked into the body donation angle and think I'll go that way. Teaching after I die teaching will be a bit ironic and/or inspirational (?)

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I don't want a funeral.

Just dispose of my body in any way or use it to make Soylent Green. ;)

3 ( +3 / -0 )

borscht - I agree and with many of the opinions expressed above.

I have read somewhere (forgot where) that many people have / are choosing the "donate my body to science" way, so much so that they refuse many because "science only needs and can deal with a pre-determined number of corpses".

Perhaps someone has some info on this.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Funerals are becoming obsolete in the way that companies think you need to pay a mint after your dead to celebrate your life. Seriously, I hope that my family just has my body cremated and if legal dumps me in a river somewhere (I'd like to think a nice one, but what does it matter?). If it's not legal, do it anyway. Quite frankly I don't care what people do with me after I'm gone.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Death is not the end! Have you heard what people pay for grave sites and their maintenance? Riiiiiiiiiidiculous!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Having wasted a TON of money on a fancy Japanese funeral for my wife's grandpa earlier this year (he wanted a big traditional funeral and it was his money anyway), I really hope the greedy Japanese funeral industry and gouging buddhist priests become obsolete, sooner rather than later!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Borscht and Browny1, I recently did some preliminary research on arranging to donate to a medical school and it is as Browny1 wrote, these days there are more willing donors than anatomy students. You might still get lucky and get picked, but you can't count on it. (so set aside money for a cremation and make your wishes clear).

One consideration I've heard but not confirmed: if you have too much body fat, it's too much trouble to pickle and disect you, so you will not be a candidate. (I'm not confirming this, just in case it's not true, because this is a major motivator for me to slim down.)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Funerals are an appalling waste of money and the circling vultures looking to squeeze money out of people when they are at their most vulnerable are deplorable. My father left strict instructions to send this lot packing.

Give your body to science. Make sure you leave a few quid to good causes if you've got it to spare.

I hope people in need will benefit from my death. A very dignified exit.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My grandfather donated his body to a medical Uni. 2yrs later it was returned(we are not sure if we got all the bits).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

After putting the incense pellets in my mouth at my wife's grandfathers funeral (I could only see people from the back and thought they were reaching into a bowl and putting whatever in their mouths) then having to spit them out at the alter in front of everyone, if I die and have a funeral here I will only stipulate that all attendees have to put the incense pellets in their mouths.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

i think these are obsolete, in a Christian sense. these types of over the top funerals are in a sense a waste of money since they are not the correct Christian method. If Japan were to embrace a more godly approach to their funeral rights, then the situation would be different, but for now they are obsolete

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Funerals will never become obsolete! There will always be a ceremony to celebrate the life of a loved one passed. However, the 50 grand plus funerals in japan are quickly becoming obsolete.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

After putting the incense pellets in my mouth at my wife's grandfathers funeral

Did you also say "gochisosama deshita" because that's what you thought the others were saying? (What idiot would do that, apart from me that is?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Another alternative to donating you body to science which I like is to have my ashes converted into a living tree. I would prefer to be returned to nature in which I could give back to the environment, and my loved could still come to remember me if they wish. You can be planted anywhere like close to my family. I think it is better than leaving an expensive tombstone taking up precious space.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This discussion reminds me of the 1984 film of Juzo Itami. Itami, in his wry ways, pointed out many fo the very ridiculous practices that make funerals so expensive. お葬式 (English title - The Funeral) was Itami's deebut film, and he both wrote and directed it. While Wikipedia calls it a comedy, it is more of a social commentary. It won multiple awards in Japan in 1985 including Best Picture and Best Director. It has a bit of gratuitious sex, as do many of Itami's films. Other than that, it is worth watching. It not only teaches a great deal of the Japanese funeral rites, but also provokes questions of the purpose of the funeral industry and of family members reassesing relations after the death of a family elder. One of my favorite Japanese films.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They have more business than they can handle. At one end of the age scale: a waiting list to get into daycare facilities. At the other end: a waiting list to get cremated.

That is profound and eye opening.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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