Shinsosai (Shinto Funeral) (神葬祭)

Shinsosai refers to funeral rites performed by Shinto, Japan's original religion.

History of Shinsosai

Japan's ancient funeral style was described in Japanese mythology, particularly in the episode of the funeral for Amenowakahiko in "Kojiki" (The Records of Ancient Matters), in which details of ancient funerals are elaborated on.

Since the introduction of Buddhism to Japan, Buddhist funerals spread rapidly as Japan's funeral rites. After the Edo period, to prevent the spread of Christian faith, Buddhist funerals became obligatory through the introduction of the "Terauke seido" (the system of organizing whole temples in Japan with registration of follower families=every person should belong to a Buddhist temple). By the middle and late Edo period, however, due to the boom of the study in Japanese classical literature and the appeal by scholars of Japanese classical literature for a resurgence of ancient Japanese spirits and culture, research on Shinsosai was also carried out, and campaigns to promote funerals based on Japan's ancient faith (Shinsosai Movement) were pursued. As a result, the (Edo) bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) gave approval for Shinsosai to a limited extent.

After the Meiji period, the government encouraged Shinsosai as part of "Jingi policy" (policy advocated by "Jingisho,"or Ministry of Divinities). For example, as a cemetery designated exclusively to Shinsosai, the Aoyama cemetery was set up. On July 18, 1873, cremation was prohibited on the grounds that it was a Buddhist practice (cremation was allowed again on May 23, 1875). Some communities converted to Shinsosai as a whole, following the Ordinance Distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism and "Haibutsu-kishaku" (a movement to abolish Buddhism). Because freedom of religion was guaranteed, although still limited, by the Meiji Constitution, people were not forced to perform Shinsosai. However, while funeral rites were designated as a religious act, Shinto priests (with the exception of priests of shrines below the rank of prefectural shrines, who were allowed to practice Shinsosai for a while), who were regarded as government officials (It is agreed that Shrine Shinto was not a religion), were prohibited from performing Shinsosai because it was a religious act. As a result, the promulgation of Shinsosai grew stagnant except at Sect Shinto (new religion close to Shinto), which was allowed to engage in religious activities. After WWII, Shinto recovered its status as a religious faith and has been allowed performing funeral rites.

Currently, Buddhist funerals are still popular, but Shinsosai has shown an upward trend on the grounds that the meanings of rites are easy to understand, and that compared with funerals of other religious faiths, Shinsosai puts a lighter strain on finances.

Shinto's view of life and death

In Shinto, it is considered that 'all humans are children of gods; through gods' arrangement, they are put in the mother's womb and enter the world, and after humans finish playing a role on the earth, they return to the world of gods and protect their descendants.'
The objective of Shinsosai, therefore, is to transform the deceased to a tutelary spirit of his/her household. Also, because Shinto associates death with "kegare" (impurity), funeral rites are rarely performed at a shrine, a sacred place where gods rest. Instead, funeral rites are performed at the deceased's house or a funeral hall.
It's important, however, to understand that according to Shinto's definition, the term 'kegare' (impurity) does not mean 'dirty or uncleanliness.'
The word 'kegare' refers to a depressed state of mind, in which vigorous life force diminishes because of the pain of bereavement (this state can be expressed as 'kegare (a homonym),' literary, the exhausted mind).

Characteristics of Shinsosai

A "shigo" (a posthumous name) is given. In many schools of Buddhism, a posthumous name, 'kaimyo' or 'homyo' (Jodo Shinshu, or the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism), is given to the deceased by monks whereas in Shinto 'okurina,' an equivalent of Buddhism's 'kaimyo,' is given. In most cases, the name of the deceased is inscribed (in ink) on the top part of "reiji" (spirit vessel), Shinto equivalent of Buddhist mortuary tablet, followed by a honorific title, which, like kaimyo, represents the personality and achievements of the deceased and the season of his or her death, although this title is omitted in many cases these days. The last part, which represents the age and sex of the deceased, is concluded with ink-written "reigo" (spiritual title) such as 'Ushi' for adult men and 'Toji' for adult women.
Depending on ages and achievements, the deceased is sometimes given--if the deceased is male--reigo other than 'Ushi' such as 'wakahiko,' 'warako,' 'iratsuko,' 'hiko,' 'ookina,' 'o, 'taio,' 'kimi,' 'mikoto,' and 'son,' and--if the deceased is female--reigo other than 'Toji' (if a woman) such as 'warame,' 'iratsume,' 'otoji,' 'ona,' 'oona,' 'hime,' and 'hime (different Chinese character).'
Examples of shigo are "XXX (the name of the deceased) 美志真心高根 Ushi" and "XXX Sanae Warame" (for a girl who died young). Incense is not used. In Buddhist funerals, "shoko" (incense offering) is practiced during funeral rites, and incense is placed upright in front of a Buddhist altar whereas in Shinsosai, shoko and the use of incense are rarely practiced.
The practice in Shinsosai that corresponds to shoko is 'tamagushihoten.'
The word 'tamagushi' refers to a branch of sacred trees, such as Sakaki, with "shide" (a zigzag-shaped paper streamer) being attached to the branch. It is important to offer shide because it expresses the faith of worshippers, and in areas where Sakaki is not available in large quantities, the practice called 'kake-tamagushi' is practiced, whereby a set of shide are put in branches of a large Sakaki. Sometimes, 'kenmai' or 'kenpai,' in which rice (the former) or sake (the latter) is poured into a container, is practiced instead.
Graves
Shinto-style graves are called 'Okutsuki' (spelled as '奥都城, or alternatively '奥城'). In general, the top part of a headstone is pointed so that it resembles "eboshi" (formal headwear for court nobles)--there are exceptions--, and the phrase "XXX-ke Okutsuki" (a grave for the XXXs) is inscribed in the front side of the headstone. When visiting a grave, you are required to offer not incense but Sakaki, rice, salt, water, sake, and so on. Of course, it is acceptable to offer foods that were loved by the deceased or flowers.
Mitamaya (where ancestral spirits were enshrined)
祖霊舎 (pronounced as 'mitamaya' and also spelled as '御霊舎' or '御霊屋') is Shinto equivalent of a Buddhist altar. The majority of them are made of Hinoki (Japanese cypress) wood and, in general, it is simpler than a Buddhist altar. Usually, mitamaya is placed under "kamidana" (a household Shinto altar). Manners for regular worship and offerings are same as when worshipping kamidana, but the worship of kamidana should precede the worship of mitamaya.
Shinsosai procedures
Makura-naoshi no gi (pillow-adjustment rite)
This is the first rite of Shinsosai. The death of a loved one is reported to kamidana and mitamaya. Then, white Japanese paper is attached to the front side of the kamidana (this practice is called 'kamidana-fuji' (The household shrine is closed and covered with a white paper, to keep out the impure spirits of the dead).
Kamidana-fuji will be discarded at the memorial service held on the 50th day after loved one's death.)
The body of the loved one is clothed in white "kosode" (a kimono with short sleeves worn as underclothing by the upper classes) and laid down so that his/her pillow faces north, and a sword for protection is placed next to the pillow. An altar is set up in front, and rice, sake, salt, water, items loved by the deceased, and so on are offered.
Nokan no gi (coffin rite)
This is a rite for placing the body in a coffin. The lid is put on the coffin, and after covering the coffin with white fabric, all the attendants pray. In some cases, a rite of "matsugo-no-mizu" (water of the last moment) is performed, whereby the mouth of the deceased is wetted with leaves of Sakaki soaked with water. On this occasion, the deceased is clothed in a white garment called "kamui" (garment of gods), Shinto's equivalent of "kyokatabira" (a shroud used by Buddhists), which resembles "kariginu"(informal clothes worn by Court nobles), and the 'form of gods' is created by getting the body hold "shaku" (a mace) and wear eboshi for men or hold a fan for women. Incidentally, rigor mortis sometimes has already set in, or even if it has not, there are cases these days in which the body has already become stiff because of dry ice, and so on. In this case, it is common that the body is just covered with a garment, and eboshi is placed near the pillow. If the deceased is bathed after death (called 'yukan') as a newborn baby take "ubuyu" (a baby's first bath), there is no problems because the body becomes flexible.
Tsuyasai (a ritual wake) and Senreisai (rite for transferring the deceased spirit)
"Tsuyasai" (a ritual wake) corresponds to Buddhist funeral's "Tsuya" (a wake, all-night vigil over a body). "Senreisai" is a rite for transferring the deceased spirit to reiji so that the spirit would rest at reiji. A Shinto priest chants a eulogy while the family of the deceased offers tamagushi and prays. In Senreisai, 'mitama utsushi no gi' (a rite for transferring spirit) is performed, whereby a Shinto priest transfers the spirit of the deceased from the body to reiji while the room is darkened so that it represents a night. In this rite, the priest mumbles "keihitsu," or sounds of heralding (sometimes with a drum), and this sound is prototype of the onomatopoeia (sound effect) 'hyu-doro-doro-doro,' which is used in Japanese ghost films.
Sojosai (grave-side rites)
"Sojosai" is a series of the most important and ceremonious rites of Shinsosai to pay final respects (bid final farewell) to loved ones. In Sojosai, s set of rites such as the delivering of memorial addresses, the announcement of condolence telegrams, the chanting of a eulogy by a Shinto priest, and the offering of tamagushi are performed. Sojosai corresponds to a Buddhist funeral ceremony and a memorial service.
Kasosai (crematory rite)
"Kasosai" is a rite performed at a crematorium before cremating the body. A Shinto priest chants a eulogy while the family of the deceased offers tamagushi and prays.
Maisosai (interment rite)
"Maisosai" is a rite for burying cremains in a cemetary. The gravesite is surrounded by "Shimenawa"(sacred rice-straw ropes) stretched among bamboos set up at four corners of the gravesite, and cremains are buried while a priest chants a eulogy, and the family of the deceased prays. In Shinsosai, cremains are brought directly from a crematorium to the grave and buried. Recently, however, it has become more popular for the family of the deceased to bring cremains to their home and bury them at the memorial service held 50 days after a loved one's death, the time when mourning ends.
Kikasai (the rite of the family's return home) and Naorai (feast)
When the family of the deceased goes home after cremation and burial, they are given "oharai" (purification) by a Shinto priest, and the family throws salt to the gates (door) of their house. And the family reports to the spirit of the deceased that the funeral rites were finished without problems. Then,"naorai" (feast) is convened. Naorai refers to a banquet presented by the family of the deceased to thank the Shinto priest, stewards, and so on for their services in funeral rites. With the end of naorai, all the funeral rites (Shinsosai) are completed, and subsequent memorial services will be performed as "Mitamamatsuri."
Mitamamatsuri
"Mitamamatsuri" (memorial services) are held on the 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th, and 50th days after death, followed by the first anniversary. Mitamamatsuri held on the 10th and 50th day after death correspond to Buddhist memorial service held on the 7th and 49th days after death, respectively. Mitamamatsuri held on the 20th, 30th, and 40th day after death are sometimes omitted, although this varies depending on regions and Shinto priests in charge of funeral rites. Incidentally, the first anniversary is followed by third, fifth, and 10th anniversaries, and afterwards, Mitamamatsuri is held every five years. The third anniversary Mitamamatsuri corresponds to Buddhist's third anniversary memorial service, but note that in Buddhism, the year of death is counted as the year one, thus the third anniversary being held in two years after death, whereas the third anniversary Mitamamatsuri is held in three years after death (same for the fifth and 10th anniversary Mitamamatsuri).
Dos and Don'ts in Shinsosai
Buddhist funerals are performed by Buddhist monks whereas Shinsosai is performed by Shinto priests. Of course, because Shinsosai is Shinto ceremonies, you are not supposed to bring "juzu" (Buddhist prayer beads).
The cover address of an envelope that contains condolence money for Shinsosai should be 'otamagushiryo,' 'osakakiryo,' 'goshinzen,' or 'goreizen.'
In the case of Mitamamatsuri, the cover address should also be 'otamagushiryo,' and so on.
The payment for services given by a Shinto priest should be titled as 'osaishiryo,' 'onrei,' 'goshinsenryo,' or 'osakakiryo.'
Incidentally, a lotus flower motif should not be printed on envelopes. The worship manners in Shinsosai are the same as when worshipping kamidana or shrines--you bow a little once, bow once, clap hands twice, and bow once ('Ichiyu-ippai-nihakushu-ippai' style) or you bow twice, clap hands twice, and bow once --, but when clapping hands (Shinto) in funeral rites, you are required to do so without making a sound until the body is brought into a crematorium.
This clapping style is called 'shinobite.'
After gigoreisai (儀後霊祭), you can clap your hands in a normal manner. Rules, however, may differ depending on religious doctrines (different Sect Shintos) and local practices, such as the presence or absence of shinobite and the number of clapping, so you are required to follow specific rules.