Frequently Asked Questions

Is cremation common in Japan?
Right now, almost 100% of deceased people in Japan are cremated. Even Christians and atheists.

Has it always been this case?
No, actually there is a long history of other forms of burial. In medieval times, people were commonly buried or cremated, depending on their wealth and religious beliefs. In the countryside many peasants were buried due to lack of funds and common availability of space. Things changed after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. In 1873, the new Meiji government actually forbade cremations because of its Buddhist associations (the new State was trying to promulgate State Shinto). This only lasted two years due to public and religious outrage and the law was overturned in 1875.

In the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan, many municipalities were forced to bury their dead in mass graves due to the large number of causalities and destruction of crematory facilities. This caused great consternation for the families of those buried this way.

Why are cremations so popular now?
Common reasons given these days are the lack of space for graveyards and the consequent huge expense for burial sites in Japan. Because a plot is so expensive, it is common for an entire extended family to share a single grave space. This is only a partial answer because even people are cremated even in rural areas where there is plenty of space.

How is a Christian funeral ceremony different from a Buddhist one in Japan?
Oh boy. That’s a difficult question as people of course do rituals different ways, even believers in the same religion. The most visible differences in the film A Japanese Funeral that I see are:
  • The singing of hymns with the body
  • The holding of Sunday service with the body
  • Music at the funeral
  • The absence of incense
  • When transporting the bones to the urn, the bones were not passed from one person to another using the chopsticks, but instead transported directly and individually to the urn.
  • And course the cross on the casket and urn covers.

Under construction. Please use the “contact” button on the left to ask your own question -- and perhaps it will be frequently asked enough to be added to this section.