Emperor Hirohito will be laid to rest Friday in an elaborate ceremony modeled on Shinto rituals chosen by few modern Japanese when departing this world.
Only 7 percent of all Japanese are mourned with the rituals of Japan's ancient indigenous Shinto beliefs; 90 percent are remembered with Buddhist ceremonies and another 3 percent with Christian services, says Kiyoshi Yokoyama, an official of the All Japan Funeral Directors Cooperative.Buddhism, brought to Japan from China about 1,300 years ago, has been the predominant religion in Japan for centuries, coexisting with Shinto folk beliefs. From 1600 to 1867, families were required to be registered at Buddhist temples, and priests became responsible for funeral rites.
Even the imperial family, believed to be descended from Shinto gods, observed Buddhist memorial services until the government established Shinto as a state religion in 1868.
Traditionally, Japanese place the ashes of the deceased in stone family tombs similar to those used in Western Christian cemeteries, but attitudes toward the dead differ greatly from those in the West.
According to Shinto and Buddhist beliefs, failure to provide proper funeral rites will deny the dead their final rest. Spirits that are not properly cared for will return to haunt the living, it is believed.
A death in a Japanese family is usually announced with a notice in black and white on the door. A mortuary is summoned to prepare a wake, which is usually held in a temple or in the home.
A white reception tent is often erected and black-and-white funeral wreaths on tall poles surround the home. A black suit and tie for men and aa black kimono or dress with white pearls for women is the customary attire.
Unlike Hirohito, whose body was sealed in a coffin after his death Jan. 7, most Japanese are cremated before burial. The custom of embalming does not exist in Japan, and cremation is believed to purify the soul.
Tokyo and most other cities require that bodies be cremated due to a lack of space for gravesites. An urn containing the cremated remains is placed in the family grave.
The tradition of giving "koden" or incense money to a bereaved family persists because funerals are costly, ranging from about $1,600 for simple services held at home to about $60,000 for a deluxe funeral in a temple.
For seven weeks after death, the spirit is believed to hover nearby. If proper rites are observed over the years, it eventually goes to a Buddhist afterworld or joins the pantheon of ancestral Shinto gods the Japanese believe influence the living.
Reverence for the dead, or ancestor worship, is a way of life in Japan that could perhaps be described as a way of keeping in touch with departed family members.