I have to attend a japanese funeral... now what?

A kind of somber post today... sorry. This week I attended my first japanese funeral. I don't want to go into too much detail out of respect, but thought I would focus more on the general stuff, (manner and etiquette) in case any of you have to attend a japanese funeral some day.

When I found out about the funeral I asked Yoshi and his mum about what would happen, what I should expect, what I would have to do... and both of them said not to worry. I wouldn't have to do anything special, and just follow their lead.


Here is what I should have known, so I am going to tell you.

Firstly, you will need an outfit comprised of nothing but black clothing. If you are female, that means black shoes, tights, a conservative black dress, black jacket and black handbag (or a black kimono). You may wear white pearls, but no other jewelry. If you are male, you need a black suit, white shirt and a black tie.

Secondly, you will need juzu (japanese buddhist prayer beads) to hold during the ceremony.

Thirdly; a funeral in Japan has 3 parts - the otsuya (wake), the osoushiki (funeral) and the cremation (more than 98% of all Japanese are cremated).

* The otsuya (lit. 
"the transit evening")...

After arriving at the saijou (funeral parlor), signing in, and handing over the envelope with money inside (usually between 3,000yen and 30,000yen) the guests are seated, with immediate relatives seated closest to the front.

The body lies in a closed coffin at the front of the room, with a poster sized photo above it. The coffin is surrounded by huge bunches of flowers (which cost upwards of 10,000yen and which are donated by guests or friends of the deceased - whose names are written in large kanji letters for everyone to see), and other offerings, (fruit, food, tea etc.).

The Buddhist priest then chants a section from a sutra. The guests will each walk to the front of the room, bow to the immediate family, then to the other guests, stand at the alter and offer incense three times to the incense urn in front of the deceased. Depending on the size of the room (and number of guests), the guests who are not related to the deceased may perform the same ritual at another location behind the family members' seats. The wake ends once the priest has completed the sutra. Each departing guest is given a gift, which has a value of about half or one quarter of the condolence money received from this guest. The closest relatives may stay and keep vigil with the deceased overnight in the same room.

* The funeral...

The funeral is usually on the day after the wake. The procedure is similar to the wake, and incense is offered by guests and family members while a priest chants a sutra. The ceremony differs slightly as the deceased receives a new Buddhist name (戒名, kaimyō; lit. "precept name") written in Kanji. This name supposedly prevents the return of the deceased if his name is called. The length of the name depends also on either the virtue of the person's lifespan, or more commonly, the size of the donation of the relatives to the temple, which may range from a generally common name to the most elaborate names for 1 million yen or more. The high prices charged by the temples are a controversial issue in Japan, especially since some temples put pressure on families to buy a more expensive name. The kanji for these kaimyō are usually very old, obsolete, and sometimes with esoteric meanings, and so few people can read them.

At the end of the funeral ceremony, the guests and family may place flowers in the casket around the deceased's head and shoulders before the casket is sealed and carried to the elaborately decorated hearse. In some regions of Japan, the coffin is nailed shut by the mourners using a stone.

The cremation takes place in a different location, after the guests have seen off the deceased in a hearse which sounds its horn loudly on departure.

I didn't attend the cremation, but have heard that it is not for the weak, as you will be able to see the bones of the deceased after he/she has been cremated.

So you won't have a big part to play in the funeral (or wake) but make sure to watch the other guests to make sure you follow the correct procedures. The things I have written are pretty general (and may differ slightly from region to region around Japan).


  1. Sorry for your loss.

    I've been to a few cremations, and the first one was hard, but it is comforting to all work together to put the bones into the urn.

  2. Last time I had to attend ceremony, I was student, so I had to wear uniform, but I should be prepared now just in case....all back and white pearl...It's not fun shopping, but better be prepared!

  3. I've been to a few Japanese funerals and didn't know half of that so thank you!!

  4. I attended the funeral of my father in law shortly after christmas last year.. wrote a big post about that in my german blog.. maybe I should translate it to my english one too..
    Basics I found important are:

    -to not feel fear from touching death body. (saying goodbye included a lot of touching and patting his head..)
    -There are many different ways how to pray - and you have to use the right way at the right time! (most complicated for me..)
    - dressing appropriate (black as main colour, white just for shirts and blouses)
    - being good at using chopsticks (since after burning the body you will have to pick up a bone of your choice with Ohashi and lay it in a box)
    - being able to do japanese smalltalk during the waiting time at the crematory - especially if your hub is the Chounan of family and therefore can´t care you since he has to attend some special rituals where you can´t join
    - bow deeper than usual

    Hope there won´t be any other funeral to attend in the next time (for all of us..) ~


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What is a chanchanko (ちゃんちゃんこ)?

Maternity clothing in Japan

Where to buy baby clothes in Osaka