Cremation is a type of treating the dead by incinerating the body. It also means the complete process of the funeral including the incineration of the dead body.
The facility or building in which the cremation takes place is called a crematorium. In Japan, after the cremation, the cremated remains, or 'bones left after cremation,' are collected and placed in a Kotsutsubo (a pot for cremated bones) and buried in the ground (legally it is defined as 'the burial of the cremated bones,') or stored in an ossuary (Act Concerning Graveyard, Burial, etc., Article 2).
Thus, it is also considered as a process of the funeral rather than 'a type of funeral.'
It can also be said that it is a method to stabilize and reduce the volume of the body. The benefit from the public hygiene point of view should be noted. It can also be said that it is close in thinking to hygienic waste treatment.
This is because a dead body has the same characteristics as 'raw garbage.'
In some cases, the ashes of the deceased are scattered, nowadays, there are some local public authorities which prohibit or control ash dispersal with regulations.
Cremation in Japan
The most dominant theory is that it entered Japan together with Buddhism. This theory derives from the fact that Shaka's body was cremated.
At present the expression to 'practice Dabi' means 'to cremate.'
This 'Dabi' comes from a word of Sanskrit, jhpeta, which is a Buddhist term and means cremation. According to "Shoku Nihonshoki" Second Chronicles of Japan), the first person whose body was cremated is said to be Buddhist monk Dosho and this took place in 700. The first emperor who was cremated is Emperor Jito.
However, the recent years' findings have gradually showed us the possibility that the cremation had been practiced prior to that. One style of kofun (ancient Japanese burial mounds) is called 'Kamadozuka' (furnace mound) or 'Yokoanashiki mokushin nendoshitsu' (horizontal wood-core clay chamber) and some examples of this style show traces that cremation had been practiced there. These burial mounds appeared in the late 6th century, and if these findings are confirmed by more research, the history of Japanese cremation history may be more than 100 years older than previously thought.
Up until the early modern ages, most people including Buddhists, were buried under the earth in a coffin, and in some cases, the bodies were left exposed to the vultures (sky burial) and other natural forces. As cremation requires not only a lot of fuel such as firewood, but also certain skills, it cannot be denied that it was a costly funeral method.
During the modern era, the Meiji Government issued an ordinance that prohibited cremation in 1873 in relation with the Ordinance Distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism, which was formulated with the purpose of national unity. However, in 1875, the government abolished this ordinance because of the backlash from the Buddhists and for hygienic reasons.
After that, along with the progress of cremation techniques, the practice of cremation became extensively widespread in modern and contemporary Japanese society,
Cremation in the modern age
In Japan nowadays, almost of all bodies are cremated, except for the residents in isolated islands and mountainous areas.
The reasons are as follows:
Most people do not practice any religion and do not have any fixed ideas about which burial method they prefer. In modern Japan, the percentage of cremation is almost 100% and is the standard form of funeral that is also socially accepted as the most uncontroversial.
Buddhism maintains a certain influence in Japan and cremation is respected because Buddha was cremated as well
In addition, Jodo Shinshu (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism) sect has actively promoted cremation.
The population is concentrated in cities, and in these urban areas, it is difficult to secure burial sites.
Many people consider graves in terms of family units. Therefore, the body is cremated to be placed together with family members in the same grave.
However, for various cultural reasons, the spread of cremation is not wholeheartedly supported. The following examples are some of the typical objections.
Some of the Shinto leaders consider cremation as a cruel method of funeral practiced by Buddhists and prohibit it.
In some cases, t is also considered as oppression toward local culture in regions such as Ryukyu, where burial by exposure of the body has been practiced.
In the world, there are many cultures such as Islam, where cremation is prohibited by religious law (cremation throughout the world is mentioned later).
In recent years, the percentage of Muslim population is increasing among Japanese and foreign people living in Japan, and thanks to the efforts of those who are strictly adhere to Muslim values, in some cases, funerals at burial sites are allowed without cremation.
In Japanese law, a dead body (or fetus of seven months or more) should not be cremated within 24 hours after death (or after stillbirth) (Article 3, Act of Burial, Cremation, etc.)
However, death caused by a designated communicable disease under the Infectious Diseases Prevention Law is not subject to this rule.
When cremation is undertaken, permission of the head of the municipality, who received the death notification for the deceased is required (Article 5, Act of Burial, Cremation, etc.), and in case cremation takes place without this permission, it not only constitutes an offense of the Act of Burial, Cremation, etc. (Article 21of the Act, 'Punitive' clause) but also can be considered as a violation of the Penal Code, Article 190, 'Abandonment of a Corpse.'
Burials other than cremation are not prohibited, but except for those residents living in areas in which the custom of such a burial still remains, undertaking other ways of burial is costly and not readily available. From the environmental hygiene point of view, the government encourages the promotion of cremation.
Cremation in the world. In the world of Hinduism, which has a close relationship with Buddhism, the commonest funeral is cremation-burial. Usually the dead body is not placed in a casket but shrouded in cloth. Cremation takes place in a crematory or the burial ground, and it is practiced outside and the body is cremated using firewood (especially for cremation) in all cases. The cremains are scattered in the river. The Ganges River is very popular as for water burials.
However, cremation is not a popular custom throughout the world.
In Confucianism, cremation is an act of mutilation to the body, and in the codes of Chinese imperial dynasties, its prohibition is clearly stated (Sumio NAKA, 'A study on Jeo chon Sim Yuk's Thought of Hwayi and of So Junghwa' (A study on Centric vs. Barbarian concept and Small Sino centrism in Jeo chon Sim Yuk (literary remains of Jeo chon, edited by Sim Yuk)), 'Academic Report of Kyoto Prefectural University, Humanities and Social Science,' December 2003: ISSN13433946). Looking back to cremation in Japan, where cremation is widely practiced, it is very interesting that the Buddhist monk Dosho, who came to Japan from a Confucian country (Tang) played a pivotal role in the spread of cremation in Japan.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam have teachings of resurrection with a great judgment where the original body is considered necessary and therefore they have a strong taboo regarding cremation, but recently, cremations are increasing in number. In the United States the cremation rate only reaches a little more than 20%, because there is a strong taboo among the conservative Protestants, but on the other hand, in the United Kingdom, another Christian country, and many of the countries which were or have been under British influence, the rate is around 70% and therefore, looking to religious aspects for reasons against cremation may not necessarily be correct.
There are cases in which Muslims living in Japan, where cremation is predominant, secured burial sites for themselves in order to be able to directly bury the dead body under the earth. It is said that in this religious sphere in general, burning the dead body might be considered as an insult to the dead. However, among the Muslims, there is a difference depending on the sects, and it is said that the more secular and moderate sects show some signs of acceptance.