Japanese Funeral Customs
In this first of a two part series we're going to discuss
Japanese Buddhist funeral customs.
What most people don't realize, even those familiar with Buddhism, is that Japanese Buddhist funeral customs differ from region to region. There is no one custom that encompasses all of Buddhism. Therefore, a generic description will not be possible. The religion of the deceased also plays a role in the burial ceremony. Also the person's age and social status, as well as economic situation, affect how they are buried.
Even though the services themselves are different based on the above factors, there are some customs that are the same or similar throughout. What follows is a brief list of the common elements to a Buddhist funeral.
First there is the washing of the body. The body is washed at the hospital and then the body openings are stuffed with cotton. In ancient times the family washed the body but now that is done by the hospital. The body is then dressed in a suit or kimono and a cosmetic specialist will apply makeup. From there the body is taken to the place where the wake is to be held.
Then there is choosing the arrangements for the service. The day is chosen as well as the type of alter that is to be used. Food that will be fed to the guests is also decided on. Gifts are also chosen to give to those who come to the service. Of course a casket is also chosen for the deceased to be buried in.
The body is then prepared for the service. Just prior, it is put in dry ice at the mortuary, The next of kin then stay with the body until it is time for the service. People from the mortuary then come and place the body in the casket. One of the unusual items put in the casket with the deceased is money to pay for the toll across the River of the 3 Hells. This is of course symbolic. Also, any items that the deceased was fond of during life are put in the casket. The body is then placed in front of the main altar if the ceremony is to take place at the mortuary hall. If the wake is to take place at home then the body is placed in front of the family altar.
The next step is to set the home up so that friends of the family can pay their respects. A table is usually set up at the entrance of the home or hall. A few people are usually stationed to greet the people who come to pay their respects. Each person signs his or her name in the registry book. The guests then present their condolence money, called koden. This is placed in a special envelope that has a thin black and white ribbon wrapped around it. The amount depends on the relationship of the person to the deceased. The amount is written on the outside of the envelope. Meanwhile, at the altar, incense is burned and a cushion is placed so that guests can kneel in front of the alter and pay their respects. The visitor then pays their respects to the family and then goes into another room where food is served.
In our last part of this series we'll continue with the wake, the funeral and the cremation.
About the Author:
Michael Russell, Your Independent guide to Funerals
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