New Age funerals: Celebration prevails over mourning


Life changes but death remains the same, you’d think, but it’s no longer true. Diversity in life begets diversity in death, or at least in the disposal of our remains, says Shukan Post (Dec 25).

Funerals, symbolizing the sacredness of life, used to be solemn, reverential affairs, one very much like another, the presiding priest setting the tone, tradition ruling supreme. Imagine how shocking it was when, in 1993, actress Takiko Mizunoe held a “living funeral.” She was 78 and very much alive, but death was on her mind and the idea of dying seemed rather a lark – why not make a party of it? By the time she died in 2009, aged 94, funerals, for many had become parties.

There were other changes as well. The astronomic costs of a traditional funeral (reportedly the highest in the world) sparked a rebellion at last as the economy shrank. Private companies began offering funerals as they would any other product, appealing on the basis of cost effectiveness and personal appeal. Everybody is different, my life is not your life – why should all funerals be the same? No reason at all, was the swelling consensus. Among the results we see today are “balloon funerals” (ashes floating off into space in helium balloons), “natural funerals” (ashes scattered in the mountains, at sea, under a favorite cherry tree), “rocket funerals” (just lately coming into their own and literally involving the rocketing of ashes into deep space) – or no funeral at all: “You die, you’re cremated, the end,” shrugged Yuya Shimada in his 2010 book “Soshiki wa Iranai” (“We Don’t Need Funerals”).

There is a darker side to all this, Shukan Post points out. It lies in the unraveling family ties suggested by a response pollsters frequently receive to the question of why an alternative funeral is preferable to a traditional one: “I don’t want to burden the children.” In an idealized past, tending the ancestors’ graves wasn’t a burden at all but a deeply meaningful and enduring bond with one’s own past. A desire not to burden the children hints at an awareness that the children don’t want to be burdened – a thought to cast a shadow on one’s last years. Deepening the melancholy strain is the growing number of elderly people living and dying alone. They must make their own arrangements, which include graves that require no tending.

And so Shukan Post introduces us to what might be called the convenience-store funeral. The magazine takes us to a five-story building in central Tokyo, each story a collection of “worship booths.” You insert a card into a card reader and are admitted into a booth. On a liquid-crystal display screen appears the deceased’s posthumous name. A door opens and a miniature granite “grave” emerges. Affiliated with a temple in Kanazawa, the facility opened in 2013 and claims to have sold 1100 of the available 3758 “graves.” Price: 1.5 million yen – not cheap, certainly not the cheapest alternative burial available (a “nature funeral” would be under 200,000 yen), but when you consider the 2.3 million yen a tradition funeral can run to, it is attractively economical.

Even traditional gravestones are evolving as stone processing technology and techniques develop. More and more people want to be laid to rest under a stone of their own choosing or design. Without doing violence to traditional Buddhist motifs, the result can look like something that would not be out of place in a modern art museum. It is a new, less frightening face of death – one of many, with many more no doubt to come.

© Japan Today

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

With the costs involved with funerals here it is not surprising that people are looking for ways to make money off of death. Dying is big business, especially in an aging society like Japan.

Bugs the hell out of me that people play on the emotions of grieving people to get their cash in times of sorrow!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Natural for me. I would rather my money be given to relatives to spend then for wasting on my dead body.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

No evidence what so ever that the person that passed away needs anything special, and rights of passage to any probably non-existent place.

While I have said to my wife, she can do as she feel she's needs should I go first, I would prefer everyone had a big party.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Whether Buddhist, strictly Shinto, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Baha'i, Wican, Native American religion, Pagan.... no matter where one believes one's soul will go, or if one believes in no soul or afterlife, the fact is when our bodies die, they are simply a shell and no longer needed. I realize Hindus and Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and others may believe in reincarnation and am not certain if they believe the earthly body is needed..... so perhaps they are an exception. The idea which gives me chills is that of my body decomposing. My parents, siblings, spouse and many others plan to be cremated; not take up space on our earth, not take funds from our children.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I very much liked the japanese funerals in comparison to european christian ones.

My wifes grand parents all past away in good age and in dignity, the ritual of bringing the dead body from the hospital back to the house for one night day stay, followed by next day cérémonies, clothing of of the dead, then washing of the dead at the funeral hall, . . . . was something new but beautyfull for me.

The crematory ritual, where the burned ashes (with a relative amount of bones) are exposed in front of the family has its beauty too . . . considering that the box (containing the small bones) will be brought home and deposit at the Buzudan, house shrine.

Yes the japanese ritual, obsession with money and gifts for attending family members and following costs of priests coming to your house to pray . . . is bullox in my view and a burden for the family.

Yet the japanese house shrine is the best thing to have . . . . why visit your loved ones at a cold outdoor cemetery? Its great to have a Buzudan at home, where you and your children can allways pay respect to the dead family members, infront of a shrine, with a picture and an actual small box containing remains . . . . its less a spiritual or religious matter, but a true respect to humanity, your family, your ancestors and an experiment for your self, to see and know that when you go, someone will remember you at home . . . you will be there too, even if long gone:)

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Read and heed. Most graves in Japan require an annual maintenance fee. If the fee is not paid, the temple or cemetery will attempt to notify the registered grave (thought-to-be) owner. If no contact is available, a sign may be placed on the grave informing visitors to the grave to make contact with the temple or cemetery. It's not at all rare for the cemetery or temple to remove the gravestones, then make it available to others. Doubters of this procedure should check cemeteries for piles of gravestones or walls made from removed gravestones. For the most part, graves in Japan are rental at a very high cost---something like coin lockers. It was okay in olden times when families stuck together, but it "ain't" so these days. It''s eitai-shiyou-ryou.****

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Toshibo is correct. Old gravestones make for great river bank supports, and for building farm walls.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites