Funeral Customs & Services in China
Funerary customs in China tend to be quite intricate and tend to vary greatly from one region to another. According to Chinese traditions, it has been considered crucial to bury the dead ("Chinese funeral customs,"). The traditional ideas about burial were rejected by the Communists. Cremation became the rule in the large cities in China, while burial was only practiced in the countryside (Greg & Aidan, 1993:360). The Communists regard coffins as a waste of wood and graves as a waste of good farm land. Till today, burying the dead is discouraged by the Chinese government ("The impact of,"). There about 7.17 deaths per 1,000 population at midyear in China ("China death rate,"), and in 2010, out of 9,675,510 deaths, reportedly 4,741,000 were cremated (a 49% rate). This means that the number of people cremated in China is a lot more than that in any other country.
In China, when a person dies, the family members gather around him or her. Then, the relatives and the daughters-in-law of the deceased start crying and wailing to show their loyalty and respect (Greg & Aidan, 1993:360). The Chinese hang white lanterns on their front door to announce the death of a family member. The death of a male is signified by hanging a white sash on the left side, while the death of a female is signified by hanging a white sash on the right. Traditionally, the family of the deceased would already order a coffin and place the body in it. Traditionally, the Chinese have been very skilled at embalming. Embalmed bodies from the Han Dynasty that have been discovered in recent times are some of the world’s most well-preserved bodies.
Traditionally, the Chinese saw a large grave site and tomb as an indication of the deceased’s honor. Although the Communists discouraged this custom, large tombs gained popularity once again in the 1900s and 2000s. The rich citizens of China have been spending a lot of money on elegant mausoleums. The government of China has been trying to take severe measures against tombs, especially those belonging to corrupt officials. Some of the tombs in China have been illegally occupied by squatters, who find the tombs better than their homes. In 2011, Sharon Lafraniere of the New York Times wrote that in Chengdu now “modest burial sites are in. Fancy tombs are out. And in some places, so are fancy funerals” (Lafraniere).
After a funeral in China, the family members of the deceased observe a six day mourning period for 49 to 100 days (Mack). The period of mourning also depends on how close an individual was to the deceased. Mourning customs even have to be observed for 2 to 3 years by those who were closest to the deceased. The people in China traditionally honor their deceased family members on the Tomb Sweeping Festival ("China's qingming festival:," 2012). On that day, relatives visit to the graves of their deceased family members to tidy them up and sweep the sites. The celebration can be described as “Each tomb is nothing more than a mound of dirt, and the villagers cover the piles with fresh earth” ("Hessler and wei,").
As mentioned, before the Communist era, only those in the large cities in China practiced cremation, where cremation was encouraged by the government instead of burial to save valuable land. Cremation was almost universal in the large Chinese cities by the 1970s. In 1985, the government of China passed a law banning most burials requiring cremations in every densely populated area in China (McIntyre, 2011). The typical crematory ceremony in China can be described as written by Mark Magnier in the Los Angeles Times, “In a series of glass-walled rooms, the bodies changed even as many of the plastic flowers, paper displays and related decorations remained. Ceremonies lasted no more than 30 minutes, and there was often a line of body-laden gurneys waiting their turn. Basic cremation costs $50”.
Recently, the public columbarium in Hong Kong ran out of space, hence the “government has also urged residents to think of alternatives, such as scattering ashes in memorial gardens or at sea” (McIntyre). However, Chinese mourners have not been pleased with these alternatives as they would have no place to visit and pay their respect to their deceased. In May 2011, at the Asia Funeral Expo, it became evident that the funeral industry in China plans to go “green.” Some latest eco-friendly funeral products were presented in the expo ("Fair preview -," 2011), including biodegradable urns, emissions-reducing crematoria and paper coffins, among others.
The Hospice industry emerged in China in 1988 after the establishment of a research center. After the national attitudes about death were measured in a survey, plans were made for the opening of the first hospice clinical ward in October, 1990. The philosophy of hospice in China is the same as in other parts of the world, i.e. to improve quality of life by providing holistic care Xue & Milone-Nuzzo, 2004). The true development of the funeral industry in China started in 2010. Today, the funeral industry in China is booming ("Funeral industry in," 2012), even the funeral director industry is surging and even college graduates are swarming into the funeral industry that has resulted in an astonishing increase in competition ("College grads flock," 2012). Although the government of China is in denial that the funeral industry in China has become quite profitable (Ya, 2012), but the truth is that the “Chinese ‘can’t afford to die’ as funeral costs soar” ("Chinese ‘can’t afford," 2011).
Funeral Customs & Services in Japan
In Japan, the religious beliefs are a combination of Buddhism and Shintoism. Japanese funeral customs cannot be generically defined because they vary from one region to another. The final arrangements of the deceased primarily depend on his or her religion. Nonetheless, more than 99% of people in Japan are cremated, which is the highest percentage of cremation in the world (Sitar, 2012). About 9.15 deaths occur in Japan per 1,000 population at midyear every year ("Japan death rate,"). When someone dies in Japan, the Civil Affairs Bureau registers the death in the family registry ("Civil affairs bureau,") after the deceased’s family has informed the Bureau of the person’s death and submitted the necessary documents. A crematorium permit is issued is only issued after the death notification form of a person has been submitted ("Disposition of remains,"). Once the deceased is cremated, the relatives then submit the permit to a cemetery in order to inter the ashes of their deceased in a tomb.
The rate of cremation in Japan rose to more than 99% ("International cremation statistics 2010," 2010) back in 2009 because of the limited amount of space and constant nudging from the Japanese government. According to Japanese beliefs, cremation is regarded as a purification right for the deceased before he or she passes on to the next life ("Disposing of the,"). After the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, some locals in an interview with a Japanese news media said that it would be very miserable and sorrowful if they did not find the bodies of their relatives. “Indeed, some people believe ghosts of the dead killed violently that are not cared for can cause problems," Ian Reader, professor of Japanese studies at Britain's University of Manchester, told the Los Angeles Times. "And places like Tohoku, with an aged population and a more 'traditional' orientation than, say, Tokyo, might hold to such views more strongly” (Magnier, 2011).
As Magnier wrote in his article, almost ten or more gallons of kerosene are required when cremating a person. However, kerosene was in short supply after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami; as a result Japanese locals were forced to bury the dead, although it is regarded as unclean according to their beliefs. A Japanese priest said that “Being buried or burned isn't about religion. It's more about culture and ceremony. The soul starts its voyage either way” (Magnier). As mentioned, when a Japanese person dies, usually a Buddhist funeral, cremation and burial is carried out in honor of the deceased (Onishi, 2008) Japanese funerals generally take place in Buddhist temples or in a complex that has its own crematorium, somewhat like a funeral home ("Japanese funeral,"). Depending on the Buddhist sect overseeing the funeral service, the details of the service can vary accordingly ("Funerals,"). In a typical Buddhist funeral service in Japan, sutras ("Japanese funeral,") are recited by Buddhist monks before an altar that they embellish with various flowers, including chrysanthemums.
When someone dies in Japan, the relatives write a notice of mourning on white paper that is framed inside a black frame. Throughout the Kichu-fuda, the period of mourning, this notice hangs outside the house, on the deceased’s door or gate, to “notify neighbors of bereavement” ("Japanese funeral style 3,"). The night before the deceased’s funeral the Japanese have a ceremony known as “Otsuya”, which is somewhat like a Buddhist wake, where the family members remain in the same with their deceased’s body (""japanese funerals",") Sho-ko, a form of incense, is burned during every Buddhist funeral in Japan, both at the Otsuya and funeral, while a sutra is recited by a priest (Billy). Generally, the caskets in Japan are made of pinewood, lacquered inside and out ("A royal funeral,"), and are covered with a beautiful cloth. Small vertical tablets are placed on top of the casket with Chinese characters that spell out the deceased’s name and according to Japanese beliefs, preserve the deceased’s memory.
It is quite astonishing that the average cost of a funeral in Japan has been around ¥1 million ("Trends in the,") for quite some time, which today is equal to about $12,135. This means that the average cost of the a funeral in Japan in the highest in the world, thrice as much as the average cost of a funeral in the United States and 10 times more than in Britain. Since a majority of the funerals in Japan are held in Buddhist temples, the average cost of a Japanese funeral also includes an average of ¥436720 funeral fees that are paid to a temple. The Japanese also spend a lot of money for a posthumous name, almost ¥271920 (Sakurai, 1999). Apart from their beliefs, cremation is also the only option for the Japanese to rest their beloveds to rest because the prices of land in Japan are unbelievably high. Bereaved families often fall under a large financial burden (Chiaki) because of these outrageously expensive funerals.
The history of hospice in Japan dates back to the 1973 when a program was set up at the Yodagawa Christian Hospital in Osaka to care for terminally ill patients. “The number of deaths in Japan reached an all-time high last year” (Heimbuch, 2009) and this has opened new windows of business opportunities for those in the Japanese funeral industry. For the aging population in Japan, the number of funerals continues to increase and so does the prices of these funerals. While the funeral costs rise, spaces to bury the dead are running out and instead of going green, Japan came up “with a novel, high-tech and space-saving solution that reuses warehouse building space as a place to mourn the dead” (Shaw). The demand for simpler funerals has now started to grow in Japan and although there has not been much change in the funeral costs in the country, the market might level off in the near future.
Funeral Customs & Services in Germany
Unlike the customs and procedures according to which death and funerals are handled in many other countries, those in Germany are quite different. The burials and cremations that take place in the country have been the responsibility of the state for some time ("Funeral costs infographic,"). However, the German government is looking forward to follow in the footsteps of its European neighbors and soon these procedures will most likely change. The death rate in Germany is 11.04 deaths every year per 1,000 population at midyear ("Germany death rate,"). In Germany, a bereaved family can choose between burial and cremation, depending on various factors. However, the rate of cremation in the country is far less than China or Japan, or even European countries. Only 40% of the deceased in the country are cremated ("Postmortem: The german,"), while the remaining 60% are buried. Perhaps, the biggest reason that German’s are inclined towards burying their deceased because Christianity, specifically Roman Catholicism, is the largest religious denomination ("German religion is,"). Cremation is discouraged according to Roman Catholic beliefs.
Germany has strict practices and laws when it comes to funerals ("Culture clash on,") which tend to vary throughout the country. Under German law, when a person dies, the family members must take prompt action at that time. “German law requires disposition of remains (either burial or cremation) within 96 hours unless the remains are to be shipped outside the country” ("Death of a,"), which means that the family of the deceased must transfer the body of the deceased to a mortuary within this time. In the event that a death occurs in a home, the family should always contact a doctor. The date and time of death of the deceased is confirmed by the doctor and the Todesbescheinigung, death certificate, is filled out. If a person dies in a hospital in Germany, then the completion of the death certificate is arranged by the hospital ("Funerals in germany:,"). In the case of suspicious circumstances, the family of the deceased might also have to call the police.
A death in Germany must be reported to a Standesamt (Powell), a local civil registration office. This is usually done by the family of the deceased themselves, but even the funeral home may do this. Any relevant documentation, such as the deceased’s birth certificate, marriage certificate, passport and residency permit ("Death and dying,") have to be taken along. Although not necessary, German expatriates may also register the death of a deceased with their embassy or consulate ("Obtaining vital records,") and they can also receive a certificate of death abroad form the embassy if they ask for it. This certificate of death is issued in the language of the home country to avoid problems, such as those with an insurance company. However, it must be kept in mind that it is not a replacement for an original death certificate for Germany, which must be provided to the embassy or consulate in order to receive the certificate of death abroad.
It must be noted that the costs of funerals in Germany are high and to cover the costs, the citizens of Germany have particular insurance policies ("Funerals in germany:,"). Most of the necessary funeral arrangements in Germany are taken care of by the local funeral home ("Death and dying,"). After choosing a funeral home, all of the details from collecting the body to arranging the funeral service, flowers, probate, and so on are taken care of. Proof of the deceased’s insurance policies, if any, and if a will was made by the deceased, have to be provided to the funeral home as well. Embalming has become a norm in Germany and took place in state hospitals ("Funerals in germany:,"), until recently. Some funeral homes now have the authority to perform this function. In Germany, funerals take place from Monday to Friday ("Death and burial,"), and wearing black to funerals is still tradition. German cemeteries are either state owned or owned by the church, while there is a lack of Muslim cemeteries in the country (Crossland, 2012).
Unlike in many other countries, although cremation has been gaining popularity in recent times, but it is still not as common, partly because of cost and partly, as mentioned, because of the Roman Catholic beliefs of the locals. Under German laws, the family of the deceased is only allowed to bury the ashes in a cemetery and very small plots are allotted in German cemeteries specifically for this purpose (Blottenberg, 2010). In many cases, a bereaved family has to carry out cremations in a state-operated crematorium. The number of funeral homes in Germany that have the authority to perform cremations is gradually increasing. Under German laws, the ashes or the remains of anyone cannot be handled by any private individual ("Funerals in germany:,"). This is why the family cannot take the deceased’s ashes back home or scatter them in some place. In some situations, the family of a deceased is allowed to take ashes out to sea.
Germany has a hospice system, which was inspired from the hospice system in Britain (Farnon, 1996 ). Although, the hospice system in Germany is quite alike that of Britain and even the United States, but apparently, the hospice care provided in the country is not at the same level ("End-of-life care neglected,") as in the other two countries. Under German law, there is an explicit ban on active euthanasia ("Germany seeks to,"), and in fact, it is treated as a criminal offence. There is no clear cut law is the country regarding assisted suicide and passive euthanasia. The average cost of funerals in Germany is more than any local can afford, ranging from “€5,000 to €15,000 with an average of €8,000” ("German funerals –,"). There has been an outrageous inflation in the German in the funeral industry, so much so that bereaved families are left with no choice but to donate the bodies of their deceased to science ("Soaring funeral costs," 2008).
Planning for a funeral in inevitable, especially in the western world, but after a little exploring and researching it is apparent that funerals are something that are taken very seriously all around the world. While the customs and practices associated with funerals tend to vary throughout the world and even the methods of laying the dead to rest tend to differ, but the essence of funerals remains the same, i.e. sending off the dearly departed to their final resting place. Of course, it has also become evident that the costs of funerals around the world have risen outrageously and people are finding now have to pay more than they can afford to lay a loved one to rest.
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