Sogi (Funeral ceremony) (葬儀)

Sogi (funeral ceremony) or Soshiki (funeral ceremony) is a part of Saigi (ceremony) or Sosei (funeral system) to mourn the passing of the deceased.


The style of funeral ceremony deeply depends on the view of life and death and the outlook on religions of the people who hold it, and this difference of religion means a difference in funeral style. A funeral ceremony is held not only for Kojin (the deceased) but also has a strong implication for the bereaved. It is a funeral ceremony that helps the bereaved to react, regard and manage someone's death. In that sense, funeral ceremonies are religious acts which had been observed since Paleolithic Period before religions were created in civilization. However, the Buddhism-connected image brought up by funeral ceremonies in Japan is unique to Japan (except the Ainu tribe and Ryukyu). In other Buddhist countries, priests do not get directly involved in funeral ceremonies. It is said that it started when Risso (monks following Rishu) and the Jishu school promoted it as a Buddhist ritual for the common people in the early medieval period and it took hold in the Edo period when Terauke seido (the system of organizing whole temples in Japan with registration of follower families) was established.


The remains of a funeral ceremony which was discovered in Shanidar Cave in Iraq is said to be the first of that kind in history. Skeletons of Neanderthals estimated as approximately 60,000 years old were discovered in the cave and it was reported that pollen had been found around the cave, which was impossible. This has been taken as burying their dead with flowers to mourn.

Japanese customs for funeral ceremonies

Tsuya (all-night vigil over a body) came from Mogari (funereal) in ancient times. It is observed as the eve of Kokubetsushiki (funeral service). Someone must keep all-night vigil (allowed to take turns) to not let Tomyo (votive light) and the incense sticks go out until dawn (it also acts as an amulet). In recent years, as fire stations sometimes issue administrative guidance not to make a fire in a ceremonial hall at night, Tsuya is sometimes observed in the form called Hantsuya (hold a wake for half a night) rather than keeping all-night vigil in urban ceremonial halls and the bereaved members of the family go home.

The road to be taken for a return trip from a crematory is to be different from the road taken for the outward trip. Even if it is difficult to do so because the road goes straight, one should make efforts not to use the same road as much as possible. This is to prevent the buried Shiryo (spirit of a dead person) from following them. Contrarily, there is a another custom where it's required to go back through the same road.

After a funeral ceremony, salt is scattered to purify, which is called 'Furishio.' (However, it is a custom that originated from Shinto and some believe that it goes against the doctrine of Buddhism which does not regard death as Kegare (impurity). In recent years, some do not observe this, with Jodo Shinshu (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism) which has not observed this custom playing a leading role).

When the body is laid to rest, a sword is laid on the chest of the body as an amulet. This is called Mamorigatana (a sword for protection) due to the implication of cutting down evil spirits with a sword in the society of the samurai class and because cats avoid shining objects which were regarded as a magic creatures. After the body is laid to rest, Makurameshi (cooked rice offered to the deceased) and Makuradango (dumplings offered to the deceased) are offered. Makuradango is made of rice flour (Joshinko (high quality powder of non-glutinous rice)) making it into a ball. The number of dumplings is different by regions and one theory has it as six, coming from Roku Jizo (six Jizo) and Rokudo (six posthumous worlds) and another as 13 coming from Jusanbutsu (Thirteen Buddha), etc. In some regions, 49 dumplings are offered adding one each day from the day of death to Chuin (a period of mourning lasting seven weeks). Makurameshi is a bowl of cooked rice decorated with chopsticks thrust vertically in it.

Generally speaking, Tomobiki (the day where friends are "pulled in" according to superstition) is avoided for Kokubetsushiki so as to 'not pull a friend (to death).'
However, Rokuyo (six days of the Buddhist calendar) has actually nothing to do with Buddhism. Coming from Kakegoto (gambling) and Shobugoto (game), Tomobiki is considered to mean 'draw with a friend in Shobugoto' derived from mixing with Onmyodo (way of Yin and Yang; occult divination system based on the Taoist theory of the five elements). Therefore, the custom not to observe Kokubetsushiki on the Tomobiki days is considered to be superstition. Crematories closed only over the end of the year and New Year holidays are increasing in number.

Taking the deceased to a burial place like the cemetery is sometimes called Nobeokuri (procession).

In some regions, there is a custom of Sankaimawashi (turning three times), where they turn a coffin three times on site or let it circle the house three times before carrying the coffin out of the house.

Furisen (scattering coins) and Furimochi (scattering rice cakes) is a custom where coins and rice cakes are dropped from a flower basket (with suspended strips of bamboo decorated with paper under the bamboo basket) during a funeral procession. And, in the case of scattering by hand, they are also called Makisen (scattering coins) and Makimochi (scattering rice cakes).

Joso (funeral for the people without relatives or property by charity or public service)

A Joso means a type of funeral ceremony which, when a poor person with no relatives or an unidentified person dies, is observed by the first class social welfare work, charitable institutions or incorporated nonprofit organizations instead of relatives or the persons concerned in his or her lifetime who do not observe a funeral ceremony. Even if the deceased was homeless and not a welfare recipient, the money to cover all the costs from cremation to Nokotsu (placing a person's ashes in a tomb) is provided to the organization or the funeral home responsible for the Joso within the limits of budget of each autonomous body as one of the public welfare service. Ashes are laid to rest in a public cemetery or public tomb, which is the last stage of what we call, Joso. On the other hand, there are many cases in which ashes are left with an ossuary for someone to claim them.

In November 1919, the Josokai Foundation was organized in Tokyo. In the middle of the 19th century, overseas Chinese and laborers who moved to Hong Kong, Shanghai or abroad used to observe Joso as a mutual support activity in the Chinese societies of people from the same province.


Most of the funeral ceremonies in Japan are observed as Buddhist ritual funeral services (Soshikibukkyo (funeral Buddhism)).

The Terauke seido (the system in which the public should be registered in any one of designated temples to prove their Buddhist faith) started around 1635, which made all the Japanese people registered in their nearby temples. Around 1700, Ihai (ancestral tablets), Butsudan (Buddhist altar) and Kaimyo (posthumous Buddhist names) were introduced and priests started attending funeral ceremonies (before that, a group of village communities called 'Soshikigumi' (funeral team) directed funeral ceremonies, prepared coffins and funeral accessories and set up an emergency kitchen).

Except for Jodo Shinshu sect (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism) and Nichiren sect, a funeral ceremony is mainly for Jukai jobutsu (to enter a dead person into Nirvana by giving religious precepts) of a dead person in the Japanese Buddhism. That is, they regard the dead person as a person who experienced a religious awakening to become a disciple of the Buddha and enter the dead person into Nirvana by giving religious precepts in the ritual.

As Jodo Shinshu sect, in its doctrine, has no commandments, commandments are not given and a Hosha (thanks for a virtue) prayer is offered praising Buttoku (the virtues of Buddha) and remembering a person who has died at the funeral ceremony. Due to the style of the sect, which resists superstitions, it does not observe in principle such folkways as selection of date and direction, a sword for protection, an upside-down folding screen, a burial kimono with the right side overlapping the left, sleeping with one's head toward the north, burial of six one-mon coins for the world of the dead and scattering of salt (mentioned later).

Since the Nichiren sect regards remembering the teachings of Hoke-kyo Sutra (the Lotus Sutra) itself as following the commandments, commandments are not given anew after death, but, in some regions, a ritual for receiving the commandments is observed at Tsuya.

While the process of a funeral ceremony is more or less different by sects and regions, a rough idea is that Makura-gyo (Death Guidance pillow sutra) is conducted soon after death, Yukan (cleanse a dead body with hot water for burial) is done, then Nokan (placing a dead body in a coffin) is done and then observe Tsuya. On the following day, the funeral ceremony and Kokubetsushiki are held and then cremation and gathering the dead person's ashes (or burial) are conducted. These days, as people cannot frequently gather and funeral halls are used as sites, Shonanoka (a memorial service on the sixth day after someone's death) which is supposed to be observed seven days later is in many cases observed just after the funeral on the same day. Shonanoka is in many cases observed at Bodaiji (the family temple) on the way home from the crematory or observed at home also as an offering of Buddhist sutras for the return of ashes. In the case of funerals of some celebrities, a Misso (private funeral) is observed first and then later a formal funeral is held, and Shonanoka is held after the formal funeral is finished. In this case, even if seven or more days have passed after death, the Buddhist memorial service is observed as Shonanoka.

The surviving members of the family are supposed to observe a ceremony as a memorial for the dead every seven days for a 49 day period and the period is called Chuu (a period of mourning lasting seven weeks) or Chuin. Shonanoka is the first Buddhist memorial service of the Chuu period. Today, it is rare to hold all of the memorial services of every seven days and, in many cases, they hold memorial services of only Shonanoka and Nanananoka (the 49th day from the date of one's death). In some regions, in order to hold all the memorial services of every seven days from Shonanoka to Nanananoka, there are some cases in which priority is placed onto potential attendees' convenience and the date for the memorial service is changed to a Saturday or a Sunday. The Nanananoka memorial service is generally called Danbarai (putting the funeral tools away from the funeral ceremony table) or Danbiki, which is derived from removing the Chuin-dan platform where ashes and Ihai of the dead have been placed. Upon finishing Danbarai, the mourning period is over and the surviving members of the family come back to a normal life.


The funeral ceremony in Shinto is called Shinto Funeral. As death is considered to be Kegare (impurity) in Shinto, and funerals are not usually held in a Shinto shrine which is sanctuary and in many cases it is held at the house of the dead or a funeral hall. The current-style Shinto Funeral succeeds the Rules for Ritual Procedure, thought, tradition and so on of Shinto shrines and Shake (family of Shinto priests serving a shrine on a hereditary basis) which have been uninterruptedly handed down even secretly through the Edo period. In the ceremony, a portrait of a deceased person is placed by an altar at the center and a flag called Meiki (the funerary flag with which the name of the deceased, an official rank, etc. are described) is displayed behind the coffin placed at the rear of the altar in many cases. Tomyo, Sakaki (species of evergreen sacred to Shinto), altarage and so on are arranged around it.

A rough idea of the general process of a ceremony is for a Shinto priest first to exorcise the surviving members of the family, those present and the site of evil spirits. Then, the Shinto priest offers altarage to Sorei (ancestral spirit, collective of ancestral spirits which have lost their individualities, ancestor deified as a kami, spirit of a kami). The Shinto priest pronounces Saishi (eulogy) mentioning achievements done by the departed in his or her lifetime and remembering his illustrious memory, and asks the departed to protect the surviving members of the family as one of the Sorei. Those present offer Tamagushi (branch of a sacred tree) and perform Ni-hai Ni-hakushu Ippai (a Shinto greeting where one bows twice first, then claps twice, and finally bows once) remembering the deceased. The clap for this occasion is performed with a 'Shinobite' (applause which does not make sound).

And, in Shinto, a grave is called 'Okutsuki' (Shinto tomb) and many families show their family names on their gravestones as 'Okutsuki of --family.'
There are differences in appearances among graves, for instance, the peak of some gravestones are sharpened by likening the peak to an Eboshi (formal headwear for court nobles).
'Reiji' (mausoleum)
(Equivalent for Ihai in Buddhism) is enshrined in Mitamaya instead of Butsudan (a Buddhist alter).

In recent years, most funeral ceremonies have been Buddhist rituals. This is derived from Terauke seido which started in the Edo period and made Buddhist ritual funeral services popular. On the other hand, a movement to review the state of the time-honored Japanese funeral ceremony started in the Edo period and funeral ceremonies by Shinto came to be permitted generally in the Meiji period.

Shinto Funerals are recently increasing in number due to the fact it is, in many cases, more economical than Buddhist funerals and due to the thought of returning to the time-honored Japanese Sorei shinko which has been handed down from the time before the Introduction of Buddhism.

In Sect Shinto including Tenrikyo and Konkokyo sect, they have their own funeral ceremonies based on Shinto Funerals in many cases.

Roman Catholic Church

The view of funerals by the Roman Catholic Church can be read in "Constitutio de Sacra Liturgia," one of the documents of the Second Vatican Council which best indicates the current Roman Catholic ethos. The document stipulates 'Funeral rites should express more clearly the paschal character of Christian death, and should correspond more closely to the circumstances and traditions found in various regions. This also applies to the liturgical color to be used' (Article 81). The current funerals of the Roman Catholic Church are observed according to the funeral rites which were revised by the above document and published in 1969 as the Catholic liturgical book "Ordo exsequiarum" and is translated into several foreign languages, and two characteristics can be mentioned as compared with the view of funerals before the revision.

The first one is: it is declared that 'Funeral rites should express the paschal character of Christian death.'
In other words, death is not a complete end of human beings and by believing in Jesus Christ one's wishes for eternal life and rebirth are granted. The Catholic Church used to emphasize only in arousing fear of the Last Judgment, Purgatory and Hell after death, however such a way of thinking as above had been revised by this view. In relation to this, hymns and so on sang in mass for the dead (Requiems) were abolished due to content which had deviated from the original view of life and death of Christianity.

The second one is: funeral rites of the Roman Catholic Church are not in uniform style throughout the world but flexible enough to correspond to the culture in various regions. The native culture and traditions are naturally respected also in Japan. According to this philosophy, Shoko (to burn incense) and Kenka (to offer flowers) are performed in the Catholic funeral rites in Japan, which indicates close attention is paid to the fact that non-Catholic attendees are a majority in many cases. Specifically, the following points can be mentioned: that the terms and peculiar expressions used in the funeral rites are avoided as much as possible and that a 'Liturgy of the Word' can be observed instead of a mass in case most of the attendees are non-Catholic.

Catholic funeral rites are an occasion to pray for the deceased as well as to pray for the surviving members. It is also not only an occasion to pray to God to encourage the surviving members of the family in their grief, but also an occasion to reconfirm the faith that, as human beings who believe in Jesus Christ, they can be resurrected after death as He had.

According to the above philosophy of corresponding to the regional culture, the process of 'Tsuya' and 'Funeral ceremony' is followed in the Catholic funeral rites in Japan.

In Tsuya, reading of the Bible, singing of the hymns, praying for the deceased, Kenka into the coffin, Kenka or Shoko by those present, a speech by a representative of the surviving family and so on are performed. While Tsuya is observed in a church in many cases, some are observed at home.

While the funeral rites are observed in a church as a funeral mass in many cases, some are observed at home depending on circumstances. And, when most of the attendees are non-Catholic, a simple form named 'Liturgy of the Word' is observed instead of a mass taking the attendees into account.

A funeral mass is different from a regular mass in that the site is decorated properly for funeral rites and a part of the Bible to be read, hymns, prayers, contents of the sermon and so on are selected adequately for funeral rites. Kokubetsushiki and Soso (attendance at a funeral) follow the mass in an appropriate form. In Kokubetsushiki, introduction of the deceased, memorial address, presentation of telegram of condolences, Shoko or Kenka and a speech by a representative of the surviving family are performed.

Ceremonies other than a mass can be presided over not only by a priest and a deacon but also by a believer. The color of vestments of a priest (a deacon) in a Tsuya and funeral rites are usually white but, in special occasions, it is sometimes purple or black.

Corresponding to the Japanese custom of performing a memorial service for the deceased on a certain day after death, a ceremony called 'Anniversary of death' is sometimes held where a mass and prayers are performed for the deceased.


As for Protestant funerals in the West, only funerals and burial worship in the daytime are observed in many cases. In Japan, to meet the convenience of attendees accustomed to the style of Buddhist funerals, quite a number of rituals are held for two days, on the night before and on the day. The ritual on the night before is called a 'Funeral wake,' 'Prayer on the night before' and so on rather than 'Tsuya' which means keeping a night watch for the deceased to perform an incantation. While a Funeral Wake is sometimes observed at home, many are in a church.

As the ritual of Kokubetsushiki is a worship itself, the program is basically the same as a usual Sunday worship, and it indicates one aspect of the various denominations of Christianity which regard the worship as the last one observed on earth for the deceased. Therefore, it is basically observed in a church and consists of prayers, reading of the Bible, a sermon, hymns, a blessing and so on. In many cases, a memorial address by a friend and so on, speech by a surviving member of the family, Kenka and so on are added. Presentation of a brief personal history of the deceased, sharing of memories and so on are sometimes included in a sermon by a pastor or are sometimes separated as independent items.

In Christianity (especially so in Protestantism), the death of a person is not to be abhorred. It means that the soul of the person leaves the body in this world and is called by God and Jesus Christ in Heaven, and it is only a preparation to be resurrected when Jesus Christ descends to earth again (from this, in the various denominations of Protestantism, the death of a believer is sometimes called 'Shoten' (called to Heaven) (not Shoten (going to heaven)). Therefore, the death of a person means a temporary parting with the deceased before a reunion in Heaven. Those left behind in this world (the surviving members such as the bereaved family) feel lonely after the parting and need to be consoled, however, it is explained that the death itself is not to be mourned.

In Japan, where the Christian population is small, the majority of the attendees as well as the surviving family members are not expected to be Christians, thus, rather than insistence of the principle of religious purity, priority is placed on consideration for those who consider the regional customs important. While a Funeral Wake was set up as above, Kenka filled in for Shoko, 'Ohanaryo' (monetary offering to the departed soul) as Choikin (condolence money) for 'Koden' (condolence gift), 'Butsuzen' (condolence gift) and so on were all worked out on the same purpose and were religiously authorized later. For the same reason, on 'Tomobiki' of Rokuyo, funeral rites are avoided, which is due to the unavoidable circumstances that most crematories are closed. In addition, 'Kiyomejio' (salt for purification) is not used due to the philosophy that death is not considered as Kegare.

Orthodox Church

The funeral rites of the Orthodox Church, also called the Greek Orthodox Church are called burial rites which consist of litany and unaccompanied vocal hymn (the hymns of the Orthodox Church are unaccompanied vocal in principle). They are performed to pray for a deceased believer of the Orthodox Church to receive God's pardon and go into Heaven, where the deceased is remembered by God and given eternal resurrected life. In the Orthodox Church, panikhída (memorial service) which is observed the night before is considered an important tradition handed down from the first church and it is not much avoided to call it a Tsuya (the term 'panikhída' is, in the first place, derived from 'prayer throughout the night').

Although a burial is normal, a cremation is unavoidably observed in the Orthodox Church in Japan due to various circumstances.

In the Orthodox Church, the terms 'eternal sleep,' 'go to one's final resting place,' and 'person in eternal sleep' are used instead of 'death,' 'died,' and 'the dead.'
This is because death is considered, in the Orthodox Church, to be a temporary sleep before a resurrected life is given in the next world.

It is normal in the Orthodox Church that Hoshinrei (liturgy) (worship) is observed with those present to stay standing.
It is because a standing position is traditionally considered to represent 'Resurrected life is given and stands up.'
Not only the priest, the deacon and Eitai (Seikatai (choir)) but also Santosha (participant in a prayer) are required to stay standing during the burial rites. However, the disabled and aged Santosha are excluded.

Koro (incense burner) is used also in the Orthodox Church as an important custom, but it is the priest and the deacon who handle Furikoro (censer) and Santosha never touch Koro. When Santosha see the person in eternal sleep, it is customary for Santosha to make Kenka to the coffin.

In the burial rites, after the deacon or the priest recites a prayer loudly for repose of the soul of the person in eternal sleep, Eitai (Seikatai) sing a poem named 'Eternal memory' three times repeatedly and the rites finish. It is a prayer for the person in eternal sleep to be remembered by God and for Santosha to keep remembering the person in eternal sleep and to continue to pray for the person in eternal sleep.


In Islam, based on obedience to the God, Allah, death is considered to be a temporary parting and resurrection is believed to take place on the day of judgment by Allah. Even if one feels sad, screaming is prohibited. Depending on the law in the place of death, the body of the deceased is wrapped in a white sheet without a coffin and buried.


In Confucianism, the most important thing is to carry out a funeral ceremony for one's parents on a grand scale. Originally, the religious group of Confucianism was formed by people who taught various customs regarding funeral ceremonies as above.

In the view of life and death of Confucianism, when a person dies, his or her soul is separated into two souls, Kon (the positive soul which came from the heavens) and Haku (the negative spirit managing flesh). Kon is considered to be a soul which manages the spirit and Haku for the flesh. Kon is the positive soul from the heavens and Haku the negative soul from the earth. While Kon goes to heavens and become a God, Haku returns to the earth. Those survived make an Ihai (ancestral tablets) for worshipping Kon and enshrine it and bury the body in the earth as the place Haku returns to.

In a funeral ceremony, a ritual is performed for the Kon of the deceased to travel around the seven worlds including Heaven and Hell. This ritual, in which the world the Kon of the deceased finally reaches, is observed with hope that the deceased will come back to this world. In addition, a banknote (an imitation for funerals which is unusable is used) is burned to console the soul of the deceased.

In Confucianism in the Korean Peninsula, it is required to cry loudly in an exaggerated way remembering the deceased and there are Naki onna (woman who cries at the funeral ceremony) who attend funerals and cry to get money.

Hinduism in Bali

A body is cremated at the waterside and then ashes are put into the water. A funeral procession is arranged to carry a coffin to the sea if it is nearby and if not, to the river. In the procession, a gamelan is performed with musical instruments that are carried. As it involves costs, a funeral cannot be observed soon after the death in many cases. In poor villages, a funeral is not observed until the number of the deceased becomes adequate for a mass funeral.

No religion

Some funeral ceremonies are independent of any specific religion. Such a funeral ceremony is sometimes conducted due to consideration for the outlook on religions of the deceased or in the case of a company-sponsored/organization-sponsored funeral. Regardless of their independence of religions, some funerals are conducted in a way where Tsuya, kokubetsushiki, and so on are observed as usual, only without the part of Dokyo (sutra-chanting) of a Buddhist funeral.

There are no specific rules for the program, which is left to the chief mourner's discretion. There are no specific rules such as Kenka and Shoko in the form of worship so it is flexible. But there are some parts which make it difficult to imagine clearly. Under certain circumstances, it is called 'Owakare no Kai' (farewell) rather than the term of funeral ceremony.

Generally, it proceeds in the order of Mokuto (a silent prayer), Okurukotoba (offering of words) (Choji (a memorial address)) and Kenka or Shoko.

In some religions, Sanretsu (attendance) and Shoko for funerals conducted in other religions are prohibited, and so some funerals are conducted without religious ceremony considering the different religious background possibly existing among the surviving members of the family and those present.

Type of funeral ceremony

Funeral ceremony

Misso (private funeral)

Kazokuso (family funeral)

Yujinso (funeral by friends)

Shiminso (city funeral)/Kuminso (ward funeral)

Fukushiso (welfare funeral)

Shaso (company-sponsored funeral)

Kokuso (state funeral)

Seizenso (funeral performed while in life)

Body treatment method/burial

Choso (disposal of the dead by exposure)

Doso (burial)

Fuso (aerial burial)

Senkotsu (cleansing the bones of the dead)

Suiso (water burial)

Kaso (cremation)

Uchuso (space burial)

Ash treatment method

Nokotsu (place a person's ashes in a tomb)

Bunkotsu (bury ashes in separate places)

Jumokuso (burial in which a tree is planted instead of a tomb)/Sankotsu (scattering ashes of the deceased)

Sosaigyo (funeral business) in Japan

A funeral ceremony is basically conducted by the close blood relatives. Since a funeral ceremony not only requires a large amount of clerical work to be done in a short period of time but also is not conducted frequently, there is a limit to what ordinary persons can do by themselves. So, this is when Sosaigyo has a role to play as a service business to support funerals. Although anyone can start the business without a license, such wide-ranging knowledge as bodies, religions, related laws and regulations are required.

In order to examine the skill of those involved, an 'examination of the skill of a funeral director' has been held under the permission of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Some expertise is required to set up, preside over, and proceed with a funeral, and so if one's ability as an expert is displayed, a good funeral can be conducted. And, a permit or a license for a carrier business is required for transportation by hearse, which is a specified cargo transport.


Flashy wardrobe is not welcomed at a funeral due to the view that it is a ritual for parting from the deceased. Mofuku (mourning dress) is popularly received. On the occasions where attendees other than the surviving members of the family get together like Tsuya, Kokubetsushiki and so on, if someone is dressed in a black-based color, it won't pose any problem.
In some regions, there is a view that it is good manners to wear Mofuku at Tsuya, however, it is, generally speaking, impolite to attend a Tsuya dressed in Mofuku (It comes from a view that wearing Mofuku indicates that a funeral has been expected, which is thought to be impolite.)
Moreover, since Tsuya are suddenly conducted in many cases, some consider it important to take a positive attitude to attend the Tsuya (for instance, where only a work uniform is available when on the way home from work). In particular, attention should be paid to the following items.

Items to be avoided
Fur materials/fur (due to an indication of killing)

Precious metals (pearls are acceptable)

Thick-color lipsticks
Magnificent clothing

Funeral troubles in Japan

Besides being rarely conducted, a funeral is not discussed as it is suggestive of bad luck of the family member's death, and so ordinary persons are at a loss as to what to do when the time comes for a funeral.

In recent years, the increasing number of funeral agencies, taking advantage of such a surviving family's ignorance, demand payment of an excessive sum for funeral costs, on which requests for consultation are given to local consumer centers and so on. It is necessary to guard against such cases where the amount claimed is not shown, as separate costs demanded even if the statement amount is small, as a high amount of the fee for a posthumous Buddhist name be demanded, and so on. It is necessary to gain knowledge of funerals on a day-to-day basis and, when the time comes for a funeral, to confirm with the funeral agency the total amount to be finally claimed.

Total funeral costs include the cost of a funeral itself and the actual costs of food/drink and return offerings separately claimed. As the number of attendees is not known beforehand, a total amount is, in many cases, not shown on the estimate sheet provided during advance arrangements for a funeral. It is necessary, in this case, to be careful that any trouble will not arise due to the addition of the actual costs when claimed.

Furthermore, at the time when an estimate sheet is signed (even if the space for the actual costs is blank) during advance arrangements with a funeral home, a 'contract in which additional payments for necessary costs has been agreed upon' has been established. Even if one files an action later, it puts the consumer side at a disadvantage in many cases, and so it is necessary to check the contents of the contract before signing.

Also in the case of a member of a Gojokai (mutual support group), some troubles arise in the event of cancellation and so on. This is partly caused by excessive sales talks to obtain members by some salesmen to potential customers before joining a Gojokai. At the time of cancellation, a certain amount of fee is charged (regardless of the amount of installments, approximately 30-50 thousand yen) and even if a funeral is conducted, the amount of installments accumulated works only as a discount equal to that amount. The fact that any interest not be yielded for the accumulated installments paid seems to cause troubles. In addition, cancellations are sometimes not conducted smoothly. There are cases in which additional costs are charged without advance explanations.

Many funeral referral centers actually act as brokers, who introduce a funeral home to a surviving family and collect 15-30% of net sales from the funeral home, and so a contract with a high-quality funeral home cannot be maintained, which causes troubles in many cases.

Generally, the gross profit on the sales amount of a funeral home is approximately 40-60% and the net profit is in the single-digit percent, which makes the profit almost nothing if a middleman is involved.

Although there is a service in which a funeral counselor unaffiliated with any funeral home acts as a proxy in the advance arrangements, actual circumstances are such that the consumer public feel that the threshold is too high due to a high consulting fee.

These days, people who die at home are decreasing and the ratio of people who die in hospitals is larger. In this case, the body is to be transported home, but a special license is necessary to do so. For that reason, representatives of a funeral home always stand by in a hospital and they take care of the transportation home, but the funeral home sometimes settle in for the situation and move arrangements forward according to their own way. The best way is to select a funeral home beforehand and to request the funeral home to come to the hospital when it becomes necessary. If other funeral homes, by some change, take care of the transportation home, then the best way is to give a reward and offer cordial thanks and an apology upon returning home.

Many funeral homes, even on a national scale, make it a practice to offer standardized plans and subcontract 100 percent to a local funeral home in a region only to take a profit and the actual situation is that the business form is a proxy service using the internet and it falls far short of a nationwide development.

Additionally, a person who interferes with a funeral service shall be punished by imprisonment with or without work or a fine of not more than 100,000 yen according to the Penal Code, Article 188 (2) 'Crimes Related to Places of Worship and Graves.'

[Original Japanese]