Tsuya (Wake) (通夜)

A tsuya is a ritual held throughout the night before the day of the funeral. They can be a Shinto or Catholic as well as Buddhist ritual.

Buddhist Tsuya
Buddhist tsuya are held to pray for the soul of the dead to peacefully leave this world.

The origin of tsuya is commonly believed to stem from the story that when Buddha died, the disciples of Buddha read his teachings throughout the night in grief while protecting his body, although there is another view that it originated from the funeral of Ameno Wakahiko, which is depicted in the Kojiki, a record of ancient matters. Another view is that it originates in an ancient custom of placing the dead in a coffin and waiting for a few days to make sure that the person had really died. Tsuya were traditionally held throughout the night, but in modern times they are usually shortened to a half-tsuya, which is held from around six to nine pm, open to all mourners and having the priest reading from the Buddhist script only once. After the half-tsuya, it is the custom for family members to take turns being with the dead until the funeral the next day.

Consequently, rather than someone having to stay awake to make sure that the candles and incense do not burn out, it is more appropriate to say that they do not have time to burn out.

In recent times, it is true that some moshu (hosts of the funeral) feel unhappy about being short of sleep for the funeral, but this is really an example of getting one's priorities wrong. There is now a tendency to lessen the burden on the family, for example by using mosquito incense, which lasts throughout the night, in place of the established incense.

The tsuya is conducted after the body is placed in a coffin and the altar is set up. Tsuya are now often conducted in a temple or a funeral hall, so after the body is placed in a coffin at the home or sosaijo (funeral house), the coffin is driven to where the tsuya will be held and placed at the altar.

Shinto tsuya
A shinto tsuya is called Tsuya-sai festival.

Catholic tsuya

In the Orthodox church, there is a memorial service for the deceased called panikhida, which has its linguistic roots in a Greek word meaning praying throughout the night. Since the origins of the words are similar, the Orthodox Church of Japan does not avoid calling a panikhida a tsuya.

In Western Christianity, such a service is called a Zenya-shiki service or Tsuya-shiki service.

Regional differences
There are regions where tsuya are not performed, such as in some parts of Akita Prefecture. In Akita City it is common to have the tsuya and funeral after the cremation. There are regions, such as in some parts of Hokkaido, where it is common for non-family members to attend only the tsuya and not the funeral as it is more difficult to attend funerals because of work. On the other hand, in other regions, such as in some parts of northeastern Japan, it is more common for the funeral to be open to all mourners, with tsuya attended only by family members.

[Original Japanese]