Nov 11. 2019Topics

Especially for foreigners living in Tokyo! Preparation before going to a funeral that no one will tell you.


1 Funerals in Japan

For foreigners who plan on emigrating to Tokyo from abroad, or for those who already reside in Japan, this edition will introduce you to the details and need to know knowledge of funeral ceremonies. In Japan, there is a culture of respect for ceremonial occasions, and depending on your location, the manners may vary. Basic knowledge and manners are especially important to know in the event you need to attend a funeral in Japan, so this article will help to cover some of those so that you are prepared.

It is not an easy subject to ask about so we will provide you with the knowledge in advance. There is nothing in particular that needs to be prepared on your behalf if you need to attend a funeral, but the knowledge is good to have when the occasion arises.

There is something called the "overnight wake" or "tsuya" where the relatives and family of the deceased will spend the night with the deceased the day before cremation, light incense, mourn and bid farewell. In the past, it was an all-night affair but in recent years, most families end the overnight wake in about 3 hours. Originally, the overnight wake was a time for relatives and family to bid farewell, but recently, it is more for those who cannot attend the actual ceremony.

Funerals are a ritual that are conducted when a person dies and consist of the overnight wake, the funeral and the farewell ceremony.

The funeral is held with bereaved family and relatives, wishing for the peace and happiness of the deceased by inviting monks and wishing for entrance into heaven. It is a ritual that has a strong religious significance in Japan, where a religious priest from the sect of ancestors will be invited. It is a very important time as a farewell with the deceased.

The farewell ceremony includes people who were close to the deceased in life. It is known as the actual "funeral" in general terms. Cremation takes place in Japan to also show society that you have died.

Manners regarding attire at funerals

In order to express your condolences to the deceased, it is important to keep in mind that you are aware of the rules so as to not be seen as rude.

For foreigners, it may be confusing if you are unfamiliar with funerals in Japan, but it's not too hard to figure out so don't worry if you don't have knowledge of the basic manners. However, please be aware that manners differ between attendees, mourners and relatives.

To start, if you are to attend a funeral, your attire should be appropriate for a funeral. There are some families that do not have a problem with every day attire for funerals, but even if plain clothes are ok for the funeral, they should not be inappropriate. In cases where there is an overnight wake, people sometimes have to rush to prepare so plain clothes are acceptable.

・For attendees

For men, if you are only attending the overnight wake, the safe bet is a dark grey or black suit as a basic. Of course, if you get a sudden call, you might have to go to the overnight wake straight from work, so be sure to change into black socks and a black tie.

For women, wear a black suits or dresses. Choose long sleeves and skirts that do not expose your skin. Although it is acceptable to wear conservative color stockings for an overnight wake, be sure to change to black stockings when attending the funeral.

・For mourners

If you in attendance as a mourner, you will need formal attire as a representative of the bereaved family. Formerly, traditional Japanese attire was required for both men and women, but nowadays, western clothing is often considered official attire, and for women, black dresses or black kimonos are considered official attire. These points should be confirmed as the attire will vary depending on the region.

・Standard manners for all who attend a funeral

Both men and women should pay special attention to their shoes and accessories when attending a funeral. Shoes made using reptiles such as crocodiles are not acceptable. Shoes that are black and do not have a shine should be worn. Also, for small items such as umbrellas and handkerchiefs, flashy designs and colorful items are not acceptable. Women's accessories that consist of pearls, and any jewelry is considered a violation of proper manners except for onyx and obsidian. Rings should also be remove, with the exception of wedding rings. If your hair is long, it is important to keep it plain without using hairpins, etc. If you really want to wear something to manage your hair, you should choose something that is black without a shiny appearance. Wearing minimal makeup is also polite and nails with flashy designs are not acceptable. Also note that using perfume is considered a violation of manners at Japanese funerals.

Regardless of whether you participate in the overnight wake, funeral or farewell ceremony, it is fine to wear the same attire. In Japan, there is a legendary saying that states "unfortunate things will not happen to you if your funeral attire is prepared in advance", so it may be smart to always be prepared. If you are planning to live in Tokyo, be sure to prepare your attire and other necessary items in preparation for an emergency.


Hard to ask question... How to prepare before a funeral

・Condolence gift

A monetary condolence gift placed in a special envelope with the words "before the spirit of the deceased" is usually given to the family of the deceased and this envelope can be readily purchased at any convenience store. This money is given as a substitute for incense and flowers, and in the sense that you want to use it to purchase offerings.

If you are in a hurry and rushed to prepare the condolence gift, you don't have to provide it when attending. In lieu of that, you should leave a note at reception that states you will prepare and provide the condolence gift after paying respects.

Since the condolence gift should be provided in the presence of the spirit of the deceased, it should not be given as it and should be wrapped in a silk cloth or plain handkerchief without exposing it.

There is no clear rule about the amount to be given as a condolence gift, so it is best to make a decision based on your relationship with the deceased. The deeper the relationship, the higher the price is the general rule.

・Rose beads

It is not necessary to have rose beads, but it is a good to have item. Since rose beads are a very important item, they should not be placed directly on a chair or on a tatami. Also, it is best to check what the sect or religion of the deceased is before purchasing as the type of rose beads will differ depending on the sect or religion.

In conclusion

In this article, we have provided you with the details regarding funerals in Japan that foreigners planning on emigrating to or are currently living in Tokyo should know. You may find it hard to deal with funerals, but the feelings of the deceased are the most important. Know the manners and see them off with all your heart and attire. It's hard to think about the death of someone, but if it does happen while you are in Tokyo, we want you to be prepared with the proper knowledge and manners introduced to you in this article.