Funerals or soushiki (葬式) in Japan are usually centered on Buddhist customs. Right after the passing of a loved one, the family holds a funeral service in a temple, funeral hall, or in the deceased’s home for two consecutive days. The first day is the wake called “otsuya (お通夜),” wherein family, relatives, friends, and colleagues come together to spend a night and pay their last respects to the deceased. The following day is the funeral itself called “kokubetsushiki (告別式),” wherein people bid their last goodbye to the departed, after which the body is cremated. On both days, a Buddhist priest is present to recite a prayer.
Here are three things to keep in mind when attending a Japanese funeral:
People who attend the funeral are expected to come in a plain black attire. Men should wear a black suit with a white shirt and a black necktie; women must come in a plain black dress or kimono. Heavy makeup and accessories, except for simple pearls and wedding rings, are not allowed to be worn. Moreover, shoes, bags, and even umbrellas should also be in black, and nothing fancy that would attract attention should be worn. Students are permitted to wear their school uniforms.
It is also customary to give a cash offering for the deceased called “koden (香典),” which is placed inside a “kodenbukuro (香典袋),” a special white envelope with a black and silver or white ribbon. The amount of money to be given ranges from 3,000 to 30,000 yen (except 4,000 yen as number 4 is considered a bad omen), depending on the mourner’s relationship with the deceased and the family.
In turn, the family will send a “kodengaeshi (香典返し),” which is a gift acknowledging the guest’s presence and kindness during the family’s trying times. The amount of the kodengaeshi is typically half or less than the amount of koden received.
Just like in other countries, guests offer their sympathies to the bereaved family. To say our condolences in Japanese, one must say “Kono tabi wa makoto ni goshushosama desu,” or “Okuyami moshiagemasu.”
As mentioned earlier, a Buddhist priest delivers a chant, in which visitors are expected to listen, keep still, and be silent. Some guests may be asked to offer a prayer and light the burner or incense stick.
Moreover, when asked to join the family for a meal or drink, guests must accept the invitation. It is considered rude, however, to pig out and eat as if it is a celebration or party. In addition, “kenpai” must be said when making a toast and not “kanpai,” which we usually hear in cheery gatherings.
Paying attention to the social customs in a funeral is one of the important things that we must do, especially in Japan where etiquette is highly observed. It is important to follow these norms and to offer our deep sympathies to the bereaved families. As each country has different views and behavior regarding death, it is also necessary to ask others about it and be mindful of what we do. After all, funerals are solemn ceremonies that should be treated with respect.