Experiencing a funeral in Japan as a family

December 20, 2019 Juju Kurihara 4 Comments

This year, I experienced a funeral as a family in Japan. I’ve never been to any funeral in Europe and have no reference to compare to a Japanese one but I like to share my experience and some other cases. If you have seen a film, “Departures (Okuribito)”, that’s the closest image of how it is actually.


When someone passes away, the body will be cleaned and placed in the bed. If the person passed away in the hospital or a nursery house, they will be bring back home unless the family has some good reasons. 


The body stays home at least one night at home and the relatives and friends could visit. This is called Tsuya (通夜/ vigil) and the incense has to be burnt without interruption. The incense is placed on makura kazari (枕飾り).



The incense is set on makura kazari (枕飾り), a temporal altar which is placed next to the body. What you place and how is all depend on which religious your temple belongs to, but in general you will see flowers, a candle and incense. 





When I have told an European friend about the body is kept in the house and the visitors would eat in the same room or in the next room, he was very surprised (and slightly scared). During this time, people visit the house and talked about the person, good and bad. I remember this from my grandpa’s funeral and it was the same. I was very scared that my grandpa would suddenly move or open his eyes because my mother and I had to sleep in the next room of my grandpa. I was probably about 12 years old at that time.  




After the monk recited a sutra at the memorial service, the dead is cremated. Close people who attended the service wait for an hour or so, often the food called Shojin Ake (精進明け) is served. With this meal, the period of mourning will be end. 




When the body is cremated, the family picks up the remained bones. This is done in pairs. One picks a piece of bones with chopsticks and pass it on to the other person. Then the second person place it in the urn. When I heard for the first time that we would pick up the bones, I imagined whole Skelton would appear and I was very scared. In the reality, most of them are ashes and you see only some pieces, especially the dead was elder. In our case, we saw more remained bones despite of the long time immobile life he had. But still, you won’t see any skull. Don’t worry. 


After all of these, the urn is placed in the tomb and the family goes back to the house where there is an empty spot. This is an emotional part and there are still business part that the family has to pay for the service. I don’t know how much it cost when a person dies in other countries but in Japan, it’s quite expensive. I mean very expensive. The average cost is 2.000.000 yen (16.454,00 euro)! I’ve heard some people save money for their funeral and leave it to the family so that they won’t be the burden of the family. Now I can understand. 


How is the funeral in your country? Tell us about it. 




Shukatsulabo: https://syukatsulabo.jp/funeral/article/11966

Funeral : https://www.kokoronokaze.co.jp/sougi_flow.html

Cost of a funeral : https://sougi-ihinseiri.com/

Ososhiki : https://www.osohshiki.jp/column/article/61/


  1. Alex 3 years Reply

    Thanks for taking the time to write about such a personal and sometimes difficult topic. I’m afraid I haven’t time for an in-depth reply, but the difference that I noticed most is that funerals I have /personally/ been to (England) seem a little more detached from (in denial of?) the whole idea of death, somehow… My latest relative to die, well, the body wasn’t brought home (that would be seen as odd), and there was no sifting through the ashes of the departed. I can imagine the Japanese way — having time to just /be/ with the dead, physically interacting with the bones and ashes — could be better at giving people closure.

    Here, if the person died in hospital, one might say goodbye one night, they’d die, be put in the on-site morgue by staff, and you’d never see them again (if you don’t do open-coffin wakes)…

    Can’t speak to religion as I don’t know enough about it! None of my family believe in any particular set of gods, but our cat did get buried with his food bowl, so what that says about our nigh-universal hope of some kind of ‘happy ever-after’ I…well, now’s not the time for an essay. ;p

    • Juju Kurihara 3 years

      Dear Alex,

      Thank you for your message and for taking time to explain me about the custom in England. Is cremation common there?

      We buried our cat with his favourite stuff too! I find it very sweet of your family to do that for the cat. We just want to believe that the loved ones is living somewhere freely and happily.  

  2. Beth Parkhurst 3 years Reply

    I am very sorry for your loss.
    I’ll write about U.S. funeral customs in another reply.

    • Juju Kurihara 3 years

      Thank you Beth for your words.

      I’m looking for your reply.

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