Japanese Funeral Etiquette
Wake, Funeral Service and Farewell Service
The wake, which usually continues all night long until the early hours, is a time for family members, relatives, acquaintances and other people involved to spend a final night with the deceased before he or she is laid to rest. The funeral service is typically attended by family members, relatives, friends and acquaintances who express condolences and burn incense. In a Buddhist ceremony, a priest chants Buddhist sutras, condolence messages are delivered, and telegrams are read. The farewell service follows the funeral service and those acquainted with the deceased burn farewell incense.
It is difficult to express words of condolence to bereaved family members saddened by death. The phrase “Konotabi wa goshushosama desu” (Please accept my sincere sympathy in your sad bereavement) is most commonly used. The closer a person was to the deceased, the more awkward it becomes to extend condolences. Just say a few words and mourn.
Condolence money (for a funeral) and Token of Acknowledgement
Condolence money (for a funeral) is delivered at a funeral service regardless of whether a Buddhist or Shinto service is being held. The money is offered in a condolence envelope with black trim tied by black and white cords. Paper strings are black, white, silver or yellow. The amount of money is written in kanji on the face of the inner envelope, and on the back, the name and address of the person giving the money is also written. At the funeral service, “Goreizen” is always written above the paper strings. After the 49-day mourning period, “Gobutsuzen” is always written. Later, a token of acknowledgement, such as tins of tea or towels, will be delivered accompanied by a letter.
Burning of Incense for the Repose of the Departed Soul
When offering incense, first, bow to the person who was ahead of you and is returning to his or her seat. Move to the altar, stand a few steps in front of the censer stand, and bow to the bereaved family and priest. Then move to the censer stand and bow to the altar. Hold the incense powder lightly between your fingertips and raise your fingers to the height of your eyes. Then drop the incense powder gently on the incense burner. Repeat this process once, twice or three times. Lastly, place the palms of both hands together in a position of prayer. Bow to the bereaved family and priest again, then return to your seat.
At Christian wakes or funeral services, floral tributes are offered. When your turn comes, accept one stemmed flower with both hands. The flower will face your right hand and the stem, your left hand. Move the flower to face you and place it on the floral tribute stand. Christians cross themselves or fold both hands to pray. Non-Christians do not need to follow these customs.
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