More Japanese choosing fertilizer as burial option

By Jessica Ocheltree

Have you thought about what you would like done with your body after you die?

Of course, it’s uncomfortable to contemplate your own death or the death of a loved one, but we’ve all got to go sometime. In Japan, the vast majority of people are cremated and their ashes interred at a family grave. While this is certainly more space-efficient than the Western practice of burying the casket, room in the plot does eventually run out. Then the family is faced with the expensive choice of either expanding the existing plot if possible or finding and purchasing a new one. Then there are all kinds of hidden costs, like construction and maintenance fees. It’s a lot to think about.

With these concerns in mind, a new style of internment has been gaining popularity even in traditional Japan. It’s called a forest cemetery.

As the name would suggest, in a forest cemetery you choose a tree instead of a headstone. One of the eight forest cemeteries currently in operation is located within Tokyo’s Kodairareien Cemetery. Magnolias, dogwoods, Japanese maples, summer camellias, and silk trees have been planted on the grounds, with communal burial areas located underneath. Ashes are buried directly in the soil so a person’s body can be quickly welcomed back into the ecosystem. It’s possible to reserve a spot for yourself or a bereaved family can also apply.

There are a lot of traditions in Japan that revolve around visiting grave, so the usual vases for flowers and incense have been placed at each grave site for visitors. Buddhists, Christians and other denominations are buried together without restriction.

This particular forest cemetery began taking reservations for its 500 available spots in July of this year and applications far exceeded their expectations. If you are curious, the interment of remains costs 134,000 yen and just ashes costs 44,000 yen. Unlike most other cemeteries in Japan, there are no ongoing maintenance fees, which may be part of the appeal of this type of burial.

According to their representative, an additional 10,700 slots will go on sale next year, and they also have plans to offer private rather than communal burial plots.

Not everyone is in love with the idea. In a country where many people live in massive apartment buildings, many still want a place of their own to be buried in, so they are highly resistant to the idea of a communal burial plot. But times are changing and the number of people who don’t have a family grave site are increasing. Many people also feel that rather than burying someone in a distant family grave where they might only be able to visit once a year, burying them close to home would be better.

If logistical issues aren’t enough to sway you, think about the atmosphere. Cemeteries are often seen as dim, spooky places, but a forest cemetery sounds like a nice place for a stroll on a sunny day. After all, ending up under softly swaying tree branches and eventually becoming a part of that tree itself doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Source: Excite

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What a very good idea. I'd go for this. A pleasing choice for those who can't afford the bells and whistles of the formal Japanese funeral and internment, and not at all distasteful. Dust to dust.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

I hate the idea of cemeteries in any form. A grave ties the remaining family members to a physical spot where you either feel compelled to pay a morbid visit several times a year or feel guilty because you don't/can't.

Becoming part of a tree isn't too bad I suppose, but I'd rather have my ashes scattered in the waters of a southern ocean, where I can become part of the world at large and where my family can have a rollicking good time frollicking in the waves when they come to visit, with no 'X marks the spot' for morbid flower-arranging.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

Then the family is faced with the expensive choice of either expanding the existing plot if possible or finding and purchasing a new one.

Not true. You get a 'gorin no to' a group headstone and anyone dead over 50 years is transferred into it. We have 8 generations in ours.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

My brother-in-law was cremated and his ashes were divided up, with some being dumped in the sea off Wales (United Kingdom) where he was born, some being dumped in a field on his farm and some dumped at other places (I forget where). So when I looked at his tombstone (in a small country church graveyard in Maryland), my sister told me he's not there, but everywhere else.

I too have an idea that after I pass on my ashes should be placed somewhere in Okinawa, Shikoku, Nagano, Tohoku and even here in Tokyo. Better off in a field somewhere instead of inside a tomb. And my tombstone has already been set up in Maryland ... and like my brother-in-law, my grave will probably be empty too.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I'm in for the forest thing or similar!

When my FIL passed they went to put his urn in & more space..........agh

When I think about my MIL's grief & the insane amount of yen involved in the funeral, & then having to re-furb the grave(& it was insanely tight) & with the priest dropping by over time & MIL passing over a stuffed envelope of 10ers each time it was plain to see I wasnt going in on that scam!

I need to get the Mrs to discuss this(she doesnt want to really) as I certainly dont want to have to deal with my MIL if my wife passed before she does as it'd be awful situation

6 ( +7 / -1 )

When I was in high school I worked at a cemetery with a long history cutting the grass. After a while, nobody visited the older gravestones and I thought it was a waste of space. My brother recently past away and most of his ashes were spread in some of his favorite spaces. I brought some of them to Japan and placed them in a forest which has great meaning to me. I hope to join him someday...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Just out of curiosity -

Are there any cemeteries in Japan where the body can get buried instead of getting cremated? There are quite a number of foreigners living in Japan and consider it as their home. Not all of them may want to get cremated when they pass away.

The article also mentions vast majority of people get cremated which - to me - implies that some people actually get buried.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


Graveyards are EXTREMELY crowded, so even if you can get buried(not sure as I think I heard you HAVE to be cremated, may even be a law, pls correct me if anyone knows) the costs would be beyond the means of most mortals here.

The costs for a family plot are not cheap, a single body'd take up around 3 perhaps more family plots space wise, trust me you dont want to do the math!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )


I always assumed full body burial was not done in Japan, But then in the article I wondered about this line...

If you are curious, the interment of remains costs 134,000 yen and just ashes costs 44,000 yen.

It seems they quote two prices, one for the internment of remains (134,000 yen) and one for just ashes (44,000 yen). I could be wrong (and probably am due the the vague nature of the remains wording), but I read that to mean remains as in possibly a body, and I was thinking "134,000 yen, that`s cheap for a whole body!"

However as they say remains that is quite a vague term. It could mean the ashes plus the bones and other remaining bits after cremation, as cremation is done at a much lower temperature in Japan than in Western countries so items such as bones, implants, etc, remain in Japan cremations and the bones form part of the traditional funeral. The gold from tooth fillings is collected by the crematorium and sold later usually to make profits for the city. eg;

0 ( +0 / -0 )

To answer Kronos' question ... if you, me or any of we'uns die here in Japan, we have to get cremated. It's the law. Only the Emperor & Empress are entitled to escape this fiery fate.

When an American man I worked with died about 15 years ago I went to his wake. His daughter told me that her father didn't want to be cremated. Before dying he demanded that he be embalmed, put in a regular coffin and be buried intact. She said the family couldn't carry out his request because the law stated that he had to be cremated. There was no other choice, she said. So he had an American-style funeral, with a casket, an American flag draped over it (he was ex-military), and, I think, he had been embalmed. But that was it as far as the American ceremony was concerned. When everything ended, he still had to be cremated.

I have been involved in two traditional Japanese funerals family-wise ... and have gone to the crematorium twice. After cremating the body, only the bones remain. The family then goes into twos as each pair using a chopstick each pick up a bone together and place it in the urn. Then another two family members pick up another bone in a similar way and put it in the urn. The cranium bones are the last to go in ... and are placed on top of the other bones. The urn is then sealed and a month later is entered into the base of the family tombstone.

I have been told that when a body is cremated in the U.S., it is reduced entirely to ashes. There are no bones remaining. So it is easier to dispose of the remains ... which are ashes ... in fields, rivers, etc.

Good grief ... what a subject to talk about at the end of a glorious year. Gotta find some brighter to talk about ...

5 ( +5 / -0 )

To add to this, it is my understanding that it is illegal to dispose of deceased reamains anywhere but a recognized graveyard. i.e., you can't get cremated and then scattered in a mountain meadow or lake that you like, as is sometimes popular in the West, and as some posters said they want. Most jpns I have talked to about that were very surprised and said it sounded really creepy or gross. And also the law prohibits it too. Tho it would be hard to prove...

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

In this way one's ashes can give some beauty back to the world after death. Sounds romantic

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Buried the Body not the is more Eco friendly. The dead body naturally takes time to decomposite . back to the soil.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

interesting, certainly friendlier for the environment

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A serious option for those without family to care for their grave.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


foreigners graveyard. There's one here in Kobe City,

There's one here in Yokohama too called "Gaijin Bochi"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Halfway there. A full natural burial is the way forward. Bury an un-embalmed body in a shroud in a shallow grave, plant a tree on top - a Kauri, Oak or Cabbage tree would do me, and if required a very small rock with your name discreetly engraved. No flowers or vases or other stuff. let Nature take its course. If people feel the need to visit your "grave" they can talk to living tree, perhaps your spirit will reside in that tree, if that's the philosophy your subscribe to. The concept of giving back and returning back to the earth is enough for me. Cremations require a huge amount of energy and release a big chunck of CO2 into the atmosphere, but they are better than regular burials in regular cemeteries. A squandered waste of valuable space and a massive waste of resources: Each year, 22,500 cemeteries across the United States bury approximately:

30 million board feet (70,000 m3) of hardwood caskets

90,272 tons of steel caskets

14,000 tons of steel vaults

2,700 tons of copper and bronze caskets

1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete vaults

827,060 US gallons (3,130 m3) of embalming fluid, which usually includes formaldehyde.

Failing a natural burial, Cleo's plan to scatter your ashes in the Southern Ocean sounds like a plan. Cape Jackson in the Cook Strait with it's meeting points of oceans currents and very choppy turbulent waters would a great spot.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Thanks to those who confirmed I wasnt losing it regarding having to be cremated.

To those who think the un-cremated should just be buried you need to remember there simply isnt the room needed for that here, every grave yard you see would likely have to have be 5-10times its current size & getting larger each year, just no room for that.

In the scheme of things cremating a body isnt much compared to the energy we use year round

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Bury an un-embalmed body in a shroud in a shallow grave,

Fabulous idea. Because there isn't enough for the nutters to do.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Yup. I've been saying for years that I don't want to be cremated (air pollution) or embalmed (gross chemical pollution). Just wrap me in my bed sheets and put me six feet under. Then, in a year or two, I'll comeback as flowers. (Don't live in Japan anymore so I might get that.)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If you are curious, the interment of remains costs 134,000 yen and just ashes costs 44,000 yen.

Typically in Japan during the cremation process the larger bones are still in one piece and in a ceremony after the cremation family members typically pass the remains, handing them from chopsticks to chopsticks (hence the taboo of passing food that way).

I can only assume that the "ashes" only part would mean that the bones were crushed and pulverized into ash, like they typically do in some other countries of the world, like the US. (I have a bit of my Mom with me here)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

We scattered my father's ashes in a native bush reserve where he played as a child and which he had always loved; we scattered my grandfather's ashes out at sea, which he had always loved. Neither of them has a grave-stone, or any kind of marker, but we don't feel we need one; after all, the memories of them are always with us anyway, and when I look at the sea or walk through the bush, I'm reminded of them.

What more is needed?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It's simply not true that the law requires cremation, despite what many posters claim above. I know of a burial that took place in Yokohama within the last year or two. However, burial plots are rare and expensive, and may be practically unobtainable for most.

It's easy to check this with a quick google search, so no excuse for the continued misinformation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Be an organ donor and a fertilizer --> the most happy life ending...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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