End-of-life preparation

REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Natsumi Niki lies in a coffin to test it as a staff member prepares to place the lid on it during an end-of-life seminar held by Japan’s largest retailer Aeon Co in Tokyo. Funeral arrangements are normally left to those who have been left behind but the latest trend in Japan, which literally translates to “End of life” preparations, is for the elderly to prepare their own funerals and graves.

  • 1

    Stephen Knight

    The elderly preparing their own graves?! That sounds a little... gruesome.

    I was just talking with staff at Costco in Kawasaki about coffins. Costco sells more coffins in the U.S. than any non-mortuary retailer, and I asked them if they thought it would go over as a retail offering in Japan. Their opinion was that the market here wasn't quite ready for the concept of buying coffins and muffins in the same place... but it's a savvy company, and I'm sure they keep an eye on what Aeon and other big retailers are doing.

  • 0

    gaijinfo

    That girl looks a little young to be prepping for the dirt nap. Model?

  • 4

    Maria

    In the UK at least, people often make arrangements for their own funerals. I think it makes perfect sense to have things arranged in advance - at such a difficult time for the family, it must be a relief not to have to deal with the many details, and it prevents fights about what the deceased would have wanted (which more usually translates as what different family members want, which may not always be the same thing). It's not like any of us can avoid death, so may as well get the preparations out of the way.

  • 2

    CrazyJoe

    Death and funerals used to be a taboo subject to discuss during one's lifetime in traditional Japan, but now it's common for people to prepare before they die. Japan has "kankon sosai" the 24-hour convenience funeral home, which handles its clients from deathbed to burial and signs them up well before the services are needed.

  • 1

    KnowBetter

    I don't plan on taking up land space. After making damn sure I've 'expired', I would like to become ash and be cast off into the breeze off a cliff facing over the Pacific if at all possible.

  • 0

    MarkG

    Cremate me and sprinkle me into the ocean or a nice river. Simple.

  • 0

    Maria

    Not that simple I'm afraid, MarkG, if you want to do things legally. There are laws about dispersal of ashes. Not that it stops people doing it illegally, but still...

  • 4

    Novenachama

    All men and women must die so it is important that we should understand our departure and be wise by planning ahead to save on funeral expenses. Death is a subject we should study more than any other for the world is ignorant in reference to their true condition and relation. If we have any claim on a supreme being for anything, it is for knowledge on this important subject. So buy the casket somewhere other than the funeral home since they are priced higher. Buy a modest casket from a casket maker, wholesale store or even rent one. Some funeral homes develop strategies designed to maximize their sales of caskets by playing on emotions of grieving family members who do not want to be thought of as offering anything less than the best or their loved one's memory.

  • 0

    Jimizo

    People should donate their organs and give their bodies to medical research. The money wasted on extortionate funerals and given to already rich religious institutions should be given to the needy. I want to make sure my corpse goes to a decent learning institution. The idea of idiot rich-kids carving me up while learning nothing is appalling.

  • 1

    philly1

    My dear father made all his own arrangements for cremation in a simple (utterly wabi sabi) cardboard box. The funeral parlour discouraged me from being present as my father was put into the oven, but did not deny my request. I was glad that I followed my intuition and need to be present in that moment. He saw me into this world, the least I could do was see him out. I have never regretted that decision for a millisecond.

    However, I am also glad that he chose the particulars and that I didn't need to second guess his wishes. What a blessing and consolation that his instructions were both clear and pre-paid. I needed to feel no guilt on account of not having done (spent) enough. Following his fine example, I have done the same for those who will need to take care of my remains.

  • -2

    Triumvere

    And... creepy.

  • -2

    Wakarimasen

    Cremation and spreading somewhere indeed the best solution. Unless things go a bit "Big Lebowski"......

  • 1

    CGB Spender

    If you want to make a good income and have a secure job for the rest of your life, become a mortician!

  • 0

    Osaka_Doug

    In Japan, people need to be in a casket for the funeral and it is usually cremated together with the body. The remaining bones are then presented in an urn to place in the family grave. Having an expensive casket rather than a rented one seems a waste of good wood resources if it is also cremated.

  • 0

    Laguna

    I deeply appreciate Japanese funerals - the wakes, the ability to see and touch the departed one last time, the custom of placing valued items in the coffin for common cremation. You'll notice the coffin is made of simple, light wood - it is not made to be buried in, it is to contain the remains through the wake, funeral and cremation. After cremation, family members use chopsticks to retrieve bone fragments from the remaining ash, and those are all that goes into the urn.

    Very dignified. That's how I'd like to go.

  • -1

    CGB Spender

    @KnowBetter it's not that easy for your relatives whom you leave behind (if there are any). It might not be as easy for your partner to let go of your remains and just throw them somewhere as you might think.

  • 1

    DaDude

    Have any of you done the passing bones with chopsticks thing that they do in Japan? I am worried I'd have to take part in this when an in-law passes in the future.

  • 0

    HaraldBloodaxe

    DaDude

    I experienced that chopsticks business once. It did make me call into question the stock line about how dignified the whole process is. I found it all quite ghoulish, and the widow was rendered even more hysterical with grief than she already was.

    I don't know if it's intended as a kind of blunt instrument psychotherapy shock treatment to speed up the grief process, but it seemed to be saying "There, look, he's dead, now start moving on".

    I've told my dear lady that I want none of that. Bung me down a volcano or something, but I don't want my loved ones juggling charred bits of femur.

  • 2

    Maria

    I have attended several wakes, and two funeral-cremations. Viewing the deceased's face can be upsetting, but necessary I guess. The ceremony after the cremation really is - abrupt. Ninety minutes after the final parting viewing, and there they are again, in skeletal form. I can't imagine what it must be like for very close relatives, and I did feel terribly sad for those who loved the deceased dearly, to have to do that so soon. The hurry, while necessary in the old days, seems indecent now, and the rush is how these funeral homes make their money - by putting pressure on the family to make these decisions while often still in shock. I have little respect for these big businesses, after seeing them handle two family funerals. They steamrollered the family.

  • -1

    Jimizo

    I don't really get the 'dignified' argument here either. I don't see what is dignified about incinerating a body or burying it. I remember a person describing burial and cremation without organ donation as 'a waste of a corpse'. I know that sounds callous but many people to whom religion means little or nothing follow the traditions of a particular faith concerning death ( or in some cases just following cultural norms ) without any thought to doing something truly wonderful. A friend of mine had his life saved by organ donation from a fine fellow human who carried a donor card. He's still here today thanks to that man who is remembered, loved and respected by people who never knew him in life. Almost like another family. The idea of saving a life and having your body used to gain knowledge after your death which could help others is something on a different planet to the idea of 'dignified'. What is clearly undignified is what has already been said - playing on the grief of the family in order to make money, not to mention other people flogging kanji at extortionate prices. I'd call that immoral.

  • 0

    Jeff Ogrisseg

    This morbid human obsession with post-life baffles me more with each passing year. You're here, and then you're not. Big deal. At most, mix my ashes with some natural resins and make a picture frame or a vase out of me. Otherwise, toss me unboxed into the ground and let me fertilize a shade tree.

  • 0

    cleo

    Have any of you done the passing bones with chopsticks thing that they do in Japan? I am worried I'd have to take part in this when an in-law passes in the future.

    Yes, when my dear FiL passed away. I'd read about the passing-bone-with-chopsticks thing, but I suppose I'd stored it way in my mind under 'quaint customs no longer practiced', like topknots, tooth-blackening and selling daughters to geisha houses. So I was shocked when after the funeral service and some time spent sitting around drinking tea, the family were led into a room where OJiichan's cremated remains, still hot, were piled onto a metal tray. The funeral attendant picked up pieces of bone one after the other, explaining which bit they were and commenting that such sturdy bones obviously came from a fine figure of a man who apart from being dead was very healthy (FiL had spent the last 10 years of so of his life in pain from a bent spine, cancer and intestinal problems, definitely not healthy). Then the attendant handed out long, thick white wooden chopsticks that we used to place a few of the bones in the urn. It was purely ceremonial, after everyone had had a turn (working in pairs) the funeral attendant did the rest, but it really freaked me out and I told Mr Cleo there and then that if I went before him there was no way he was to allow my kids to be put through that kind of experience again. I want to be burned right down to fine ash and sprinkled over a coral reef.

  • 1

    rranta

    I am the last one in my family. Who should, would take care of my funeral arraignments? I decided I didn't want to be a burden on those left behind. So yes, I have made my own arraignments. It is a hard thing to do, making out one's card listing all the folks who have been in your life. The important ones, the soul mates. While I go ahead, I should be respectful of those still here. I hope I'm not leaving anybody out.

  • 0

    CGB Spender

    @DaDude Well, to put it mildly I had to pick up the bones of the most important person in my life. Don't worry though. If you can handle chopsticks you can do it. And if the deceased one is very close to you then you're too much in shock to make any mistake.

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