Graves, Home Altars, and Death Anniversaries : There are many rituals.

▶ Many Japanese pay respect to their ancestors. There are many Buddhist customs for doing this.

▶ After a funeral, the body is burned. The ashes are placed in the family grave. More small services are held on the seventh day and the 49th (forty ninth) day after the person’s death. Every year, most family members visit the family grave.

▶ An altar for the ancestors is kept in the house of the oldest son or daughter. Food and incense are offered every day.

Funerals : It’s held over two days.

▶ Most funerals in Japan are held in the Buddhist style. The ceremony can be at a temple, a funeral home, or at one’s home. The Buddhist priest does the service.

▶ A typical funeral takes two days. The first day is mainly for the family to spend time with the deceased. Other people visit on the second day. The body is put in a closed coffin and placed on an altar. A picture is displayed. Family members and visitors offer incense to the deceased.

▶ As a custom, visitors bring money in special envelopes. In exchange, the family members give the visitors small gifts.

Styles of Funerals

Most funerals in Japan are done with Buddhist rites unless people have a strong faith in other religions such as Christianity. Most Japanese belong to both the Shinto and Buddhist faiths and usually conduct their funerals with Buddhist rites. There are, however, some people who belong only to the Shinto faith, who conduct their funerals with Shinto rites. At typical Buddhist funerals, Buddhist monks chant sutras for the deceased. Relatives and close friends hold a wake called “tsuya” the next day, which is followed by a farewell service called “kokubetsushiki” where Buddhist monks recite a sutra and people burn incense one after another for the repose of the departed soul. After these ceremonies, the deceased is cremated in a local crematory and the remains are buried in a cemetery. After that, relatives regularly hold Buddhist services for the deceased where Buddhist monks recite sutras. They are held on the 7th and 49th days after death, one year after, two years after and at ever increasing intervals after.

Burial or Cremation

The rate of cremation in Japan is over 99%, which is the highest in the world. There are still many countries, for example where Catholicism is the main religion, in which people are prejudiced against cremation, although more countries are starting to cremate bodies due to sanitation problems and lack of space. In Japan, cremation was done as early as in the 7th century partly because Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was cremated. It is said that his holy remains called “busshari” were divided into 84,000 parts by King Ashoka in India in the third century BC, and given to many different countries. They are found in some Japanese temples and are usually kept in pagodas.