Parting ways: Funeral etiquette in Japan

By Alicia Hamasaki

Today, over 90 percent of funeral services in Japan are Buddhist. A traditional Buddhist funeral is a chance for loved ones and friends to come together, mourn, and seek closure. At times, it’s a solemn affair, so the idea of unintentionally causing offense is stressful, to say the least. When the time comes, it’s a good idea to prepare beforehand so you can focus on saying your goodbyes, not your apologies.

The dress code


While shades of blue and grey are acceptable at the wake, it’s expected that funeral attire is black from top to bottom. For men, that means a formal black suit and tie—no bow ties, no patterns, and no shiny fabrics or silks. The only color should be the white dress shirt worn under the jacket (which you should never take off, no matter how hot it gets). Most women wear dresses purchased for just such occasions, although dress pants are perfectly acceptable as well. It’s important not to show your legs, so black stockings or tights are essential.

Things to bring


The cost is not important but 数珠 (Juzu, Buddhist prayer beads) are a must. Choose a set that speaks to you and be sure to bring it along. If you have a little black bag or clutch in a plain, matte fabric feel free to make use of it now. For those of you with larger carry-all bags, there will be space to leave it in the hall so you won’t have to be carrying it throughout the entire service.

Finally, don’t forget your 香典 (koden, condolence money). The basic rule is, the closer your relationship to the deceased, the more you should give. A friend can bring along a minimum of ¥5,000, a relative should give ¥10,000, and immediate family even more. It’s customary to put the money in an envelope and carry it in a fabric wallet known as a 香典袋 (koden bukuro.)

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© Savvy Tokyo

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As a Buddhist I find it hard to agree with this statement, as most don't know who Buddha was. Shintoist would be a better choice in my opinion.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

You don't need to take prayer beads, I never do. I don't pick at the bones neither

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I really don't like picking at bones, especially those of a loved one.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I don't think anyone likes picking at the bones. I have done it a couple of times now, and it was about as likeable as fixing the bad lipstick shade on a parent, at the behest of the other, back home. Nothing about funerals is likeable. And everyone handles things differently. Some, perhaps most, would rather leave everything to professional strangers. A lot comes down to the customs you grew up with.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I have attended many and see significant differences between sects or possibly regions - one stick of incense or three; one pinch of incense or three; family mourners facing you so that you can bow to them or with their backs to you so they never see you there; bones passed or bones jointly lifted by two mourners, one on each side of the slab, etc. It is best to do what you have observed others to have done unless you feel comfortable in following your own style. If you aren't Buddhist, you don't need prayer beads. If you aren't family you shouldn't be at the crematorium.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Weddings/Funerals they're all a Commercial waste of money, and who really gives a ****.

When I'm dead and gone, put me back to the Ocean from whence we originally came. Zero Cost - but 100% benefit.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

This article was written for someone who literally has no family in Japan who would be cremated here to begin with. Otherwise they would already know the deal.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The Japanese film "The Funeral" should be seen by anyone interested in this subject.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When I'm dead and gone, put me back to the Ocean from whence we originally came. Zero Cost - but 100% benefit.

Not quite true - to be 'buried at sea' (from Japan), you need to be cremated first, and then your cremains must be disposed of quite a distance from shore - making such a business.  If you choose 'family only' ceremony/cremation, you can even avoid a priest, and with ashes disposal at sea even avoid a gravesite - making it the cheapest of legal options in Japan - but not zero cost.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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