Funerals or soushiki in Japan generally follow Buddhist customs. Soon after the passing of a loved one, the deceased’s family holds a funeral service in either a temple, funeral hall, or in the deceased’s home for two consecutive days. The first day is the wake or otsuya, wherein family, relatives, friends, and colleagues come together to spend a night paying their last respects to the deceased. The following day is the funeral service itself called kokubetsushiki, 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.
If you are attending a Japanese funeral it is importaant not to stand out and be respectful to the deceased’s family. Here are three things to keep in mind when attending a Japanese funeral:
People who attend the funeral are expected to come wearing 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. With the exception of small jewelry objects like simple pearls and wedding rings, heavy makeup and accessories are not permitted to be worn. Items such as shoes, bags, and even umbrellas brought to the service should be black in color as well. Students are permitted to wear their school uniforms, though as formal as they allow. The general attitude should be to not wear clothing or accessories that could stand out and attract attention.
It is also customary to give a cash offering for the deceased called koden, which is placed inside a kodenbukuro, a special white envelope with a black, silver or white ribbon. The amount of money to be given can be between 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. Your koden should avoid having the number 4 in it, as the number is considered to be a bad omen.
In turn, the deceased’s family will send a kodengaeshi, which is a gift acknowledging the guest’s presence and kindness during the family’s trying times. The amount of the kodengaeshi can be up to half of the amount of the koden given.
Just like in other countries, guests offer their sympathies to the bereaved family. To say your 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. However it is considered rude to 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.