What do you know about rituals in Japanese funeral and wake?


I think most of people don’t attend a funeral or a wake so often in Japan.


It’s true that you feel sad when you encounter the death of someone who you get along with very much.


However, when you know how the style of Japanese funeral and wake was established, and how the tradition of funeral and wake has been passed down from generation to generation, you may feel differently.



This time, I’m introducing the original meanings of funeral and wake in Japan.





Now, we have advanced medical science, and the criterion of death is concrete.


In the past, on the other hand, when advanced technology didn’t exist, it was not easy to judge whether a person died or was still alive.


So, people judged whether he died or not for a while, after his last breath.


Also, there was a common idea that the soul of the dead, which left from his body at the moment of the death, might come back after a while.


Because of this, they often tried to call the soul back to the body of the dead, in order to make the dead come back to life.




This ritual, usually done with water called Matsugo-no-mizu (末期の水) and foods called Makura-meshi (枕飯), was called Tamashii-Yobai (魂よばい).


Matsugo-no-mizu(末期の水) stems from that Buddha asked one of his pupil monks for water, when he realized the last moment of his life was coming closer.


The pupil monk couldn’t find water to give Buddha and was upset.

However, devil who sincerely followed the teachings of Buddha came to him and offered some water, resulting in that Buddha died at peace.

Today, it means a ritual to put a little amount of water to the mouth of the dead as the last water he/she drinks.


The origin of the ritual Makura-meshi(枕飯) dates back to the period when white rice was one of the most luxury foods in Japan.

People thought that the dead could come back to this world whey he/she saw a bowl of white rice beside his/her pillow.

A pair of chopsticks was usually stuck on a bowl of white rice, which stems from that a follower of Buddha offered dumplings after Buddha achieved enlightenment.



Calling the name of the dead was also one of the ways to make him/her come back to life.


In addition, putting a favorite cloth of the dead was also thought as a useful way to resuscitate a dead person.





Because people in the past had the idea that the soul of the dead may come back to his/her body, they often worried about the possibility that a different soul might enter into the body.


So, the dead body was surrounded by a sword and folding screens in order not to let devils enter into the body.

It’s based on the traditional thought that a soul of a person who died tragically or didn’t receive a religious service continued wondering in this world as an evil spirit.


By the way, do you know an animal are regarded as the embodiment of an evil spirit wandering in this world so long?


It’s cat, indeed!


Cats appear in many of Japanese folk tales as a symbol of unhappiness.

Folding screens work well for preventing cats from the dead body.



Often, the folding screens used in funerals and wakes stand upside down, and the dead wears kimono with the left side on the top (usually the right is on the top), but it has a meaning.


Traditionally, Japanese think that death is an unusual event, which is opposite to the normal.

Because of this, things are sometimes put in different ways in funerals and wakes.




Of course, there are many people who think that the rituals and the customs in funeral and wake are old-fashioned and too detailed.


However, now as you know, each ritual in funeral and wake is done and passed down to the next generation, for the purpose of protecting the person, who you love but are leaving to the different world.



I hope you find something positive in the custom of funeral and wake!