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Aging Japanese Mourners Opt for Simpler Funerals
[2018.10.25]

Funerals in Japan are becoming simpler and more compact.

As its population continues to age, Japan’s death rate is also rising. There were 1,340,000 deaths in 2017, an increase of 40% from 960,000 in 2000. More people dying means more funerals, but with the birth rate falling and the ratio of unmarried people also on the rise, the way funerals are being held is changing.

According to a survey by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, the average price of a funeral has slightly decreased from ¥1,449,000 in 2000 to ¥1,405,200 in 2017. A traditional funeral includes friends, acquaintances, and work colleagues gathering for the wake the night before and then the funeral service itself to pay their respects to the deceased. However, demographic change means that the main mourners and attendants are also elderly and large-scale funerals can often be a burden. Other factors include the loss of local community networks like neighborhood associations in urban areas, the weakening of ties among work colleagues due to the collapsing lifetime employment system, and individual circumstances that make it difficult for a large number of people to attend a typical funeral. Instead, there has been an increase in family funerals, attended only by family and close friends, and cremations with a shortened ceremony known as “direct funerals” (chokusō).

Kamakura Shinsho, which operates a portal site offering information on funerals and funeral services, conducted a nationwide survey in 2017, showing that since its previous survey in 2015, the holding of traditional funerals had dropped 6.1 points to 52.8%. Family funerals had risen 6.6 points to 37.9%. The survey indicated that although short, reasonably priced funerals with a small number of attendees are increasing, traditional funerals have deeply rooted support and are still in the majority. Compared to the previous survey, direct funerals have fallen slightly, an indication that although there may be fewer attendees at funerals, the culture of mourning is being sustained through the holding of a ceremony.

However, there is greater demand in Tokyo for small, cheap, quick funerals. The holding of traditional funerals remains at 43%, with family funerals at approximately the same ratio. Direct funerals rose to 9%.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo © Pixta.)

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