Tokyo (majirox news) – Cremations are being put on hold in Japan. With the number of deaths from the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 approaching 9,500 – and expected to rise as more bodies are discovered – funeral homes in the Tohoku region have had to resort to burials rather than cremations.
The short supply of fuel and electricity in the devastated areas means that cremations are not possible. Hard hit areas are preparing tracts of land for temporary burials. Temporary because most will be exhumed and cremated during the next year or two.
Nearly 100% of the deceased in Japan are cremated, compared to 35% in the US and 72% in the UK, according to the Cremation Society of Great Britain’s International Cremation Statistics in 2007.
A typical funeral in Japan starts with a wake, which may be held at the deceased’s home or in a ceremonial hall. This is followed by the funeral and then the cremation, generally only attended by the immediate family, relatives and close friends, at a crematorium. The family says farewell to the deceased and then waits in a separate room, usually eating, drinking and sharing memories of the departed while the cremation takes place.
At the end of the cremation the family gathers around and the bone fragments are passed from person to person until they are placed in the urn. This is why it is bad manners to pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks. The hyoid bone – a horseshoe shaped bone from the neck – is the last bone placed in the urn.
The urn is then carried back to the ceremonial hall for a final – typically Buddhist – ceremony. The urn is normally kept at home for a period of time before being placed in a cemetery plot. Memorial services are then held on the 49th day and the 100th day after death. Further memorial services are held in the years to come in the first, third, fifth, seventh, and thirteenth years.
The Japanese usually cremate their cherished pets when the time comes as well. The Japan Pet Ceremony company’s website even has a page showing the price of mobile cremation services for pets ranging from hamsters to large pets.
Joe Peters is a writer for Majirox News and also runs a Tokyo-based executive search company.