Koden (香典) is a term to refer to a gift of money offered to the dead at a Buddhist funeral. Koden is sometimes written "香奠" and is also called Koryo (香料).
The Chinese character "香" is used to mean that koden is offered instead of an aromatic chemical or an incense stick, and the Chinese character "奠" means a gift of money offered to the dead. Typically, koden is wrapped in a special envelope called koden-bukuro (bushugi-bukuro) and is passed to the bereaved family at the funeral (lykewake or funeral service).
Koden-bukuro vary depending on the religion and the religious sect according to which the funeral is held.
The koden-bukuro used for a Buddhist funeral is a white plain envelope with no pictures or with a picture of a lotus flower. The words "Goreizen (御霊前)," "Gokoryo (御香料)," or "Okoden (御香典)" are written on the front of the envelope which is decorated with black and white or silver mizuhiki (decorative paper twine) tied in a square knot. The words "Gobutsuzen (御仏前)" are commonly used at Buddhist memorial services held on and after the forty-ninth day after the death. Because it is believed that the spirit of the dead becomes a Buddha upon completion of the funeral, the address "Goreizen" (to the spirit) is used before completion of the funeral and the address "Gobutsuzen" (to the Buddha) is used after the funeral. However, in the case of a funeral held in accordance with the teachings of the Jodoshinshu (True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism), the address "Gobutsuzen" is used for koden, because the deceased is said to become a Buddha immediately after death.
The term "Koden" is not used in the Shinto religion because incense sticks are not used. One of the addresses "Goreizen," "O-tamagushi (ryo)," or "O-sakaki-ryo" is written on the front side of the envelope, and the envelope is decorated with black and white mizuhiki tied in a square knot or asao tied in a square knot.
In the case of a funeral held in accordance the teachings of Christianity, a white plain envelope or a commercially available envelope bearing the address "Ohana-ryo" or a picture of a white lily and cross printed on its front side is used. No mizuhiki is used.
When the religion according to which the funeral is held is not known, it is recommended to use a white plain envelope bearing the address "Goreizen" on its front side and decorated with white and black or silver mizuhiki tied in a square knot.
Writing a Koden-bukuro
You should write your name using light Japanese black ink under the address, such as "Goreizen," on the front side of the koden-bukuro. The upper edge of the koden-bukuro is folded back so that it overlaps the folded-back lower edge. Bank notes are wrapped in a white naka-bukuro (inner envelope) first, and this naka-bukuro is wrapped in the koden-bukuro. You should write on the rear side of the Naka-bukuro your name, your address, and the amount of money placed inside the naka-bukuro.
Writing a Naka-bukuro
It is recommended that light Japanese black ink be used. The light black color represents sorrow. The color is used to express that the black color has changed because it has been diluted with tears.
The amount of money stored inside the naka-bukuro should be clearly written on the front of the naka-bukuro using the Chinese characters for numbers. It is recommended that the amount be written vertically and that the formal Chinese characters are used to write the numbers one (壱), two (弐), three (参), one thousand (阡), and ten thousand (萬). For example, \5,000 and \10,000 should be written as "金五阡円" and "金壱萬円" respectively, and use of other additional expressions, such as "也," as in "五千円也," should be avoided.
You should write your post code, address, and name on the rear of the naka-bukuro. Even if you have written your name on the koden-bukuro (outer envelope), you should write your address, including the post code, and name again on the rear of the naka-bukuro. This is so that the bereaved family will have no difficulty in sending a koden-gaeshi (return gift). In some Koden-bukuro sold at convenience stores, a space to write the amount of money is reserved on the rear of the naka-bukuro. In that case, you can write the amount in the space.
Inserting Money into the Naka-bukuro
When inserting bank notes into a naka-bukuro, they should be inserted with the face side (the side of the notes on which the face of a person is printed) facing the rear side of the naka-bukuro. In other words, the notes should be inserted so that the bereaved family see the rear side of the notes when they try to extract the notes with the front side of the naka-bukuro facing them.
It is sometimes said that use of new notes should be avoided because it may give the bereaved family an impression that you have been well prepared for the death.
However, it is also said that the use of new notes may be acceptable as thoughtful etiquette
It is sometimes recommended that creases are made in the money when using new notes. When you insert two or more notes, you should stack them in the same direction before insertion.
The naka-bukuro should be placed in the koden-bukuro which has been opened on the table so that the front side of the koden-bukuro (the side on which the address, such as "Goreizen", has been written) faces the surface of the table (or the rear side of the opened koden-bukuro faces the ceiling). When you insert the naka-bukuro into the koden-bukuro, you should place it with its front facing you. When you insert the naka-bukuro into the outer envelope (koden-bukuro), you should fold back the lower end of the koden-bukuro first and then fold back the upper end so that the upper end overlaps the folded-back lower end.
However, it is also said that there are no specific rules regarding the direction that the naka-bukuro faces and you can place the naka-bukuro in any direction as you like. However, it is important that the top-bottom direction (not the front-rear direction) of the naka-bukuro be the same as that of the koden-bukuro (outer envelope).
Amount of Money
The amount of condolence money varies depending on factors including how close you are to the deceased or the bereaved family, your social status, your age, and the region in which you live. In general, while the amount often ranges from \50,000 to \100,000 when the deceased is your mother or father, it often ranges from \30,000 to \50,000 when the deceased is your brother or sister. When the deceased is one of your relatives (excluding your parents, brothers, and sisters), the amount ranges from \10,000 to \30,000, and when the deceased is one of your colleagues, friends, or neighbors, the amount often ranges from \5,000 to \10,000. There is a traditional taboo that says an even number amount or number of notes should be avoided (odd numbers are thought to be positive numbers and even numbers are thought to be negative numbers). Some people avoid use of three, four, or nine notes because the pronunciations of these numbers are similar to those of "惨 (tragedy)," "死 (death)," and "苦 (agony)," respectively.
Koden-gaeshi (Return Gift)
Originally, a koden-gaeshi was not needed because a koden is offered to the dead. However nowadays, bereaved families often give a koden-gaeshi at the end of mourning period. The mourning period ends at the memorial service held on the forty-ninth day after the death in the case of Buddhism and ends at the memorial service held on the fiftieth day after the death in the case of Shinto. In Christianity, there is no concept of a mourning period, but bereaved families often give a koden-gaeshi in a manner similar to that of Buddhism after the ascension memorial day which is held one month after the death.
The monetary value of the koden-gaeshi often ranges from 30% to 50% of that of the koden. While the same gift is often given to all recipients, different gifts may also be given depending on differing koden amounts. Foods or consumables are often given as koden-gaeshi, and typical examples include tea, sweets, dried laver seaweed, towels, bedding, soap and tableware.
In the case of Buddhism, you should write "志" or "忌明志" on the front side of the koden-gaeshi and decorate it with white and black or gray mizuhiki tied in a square knot. In western Japan, you should write "満中陰志" on the front side of the koden-gaeshi and decorate it with yellow and white mizuhiki. The phrase "中陰" means the memorial service held on the forty-ninth day after the death. In the case of Shinto, you should write "志," "偲草," or "しのび草" on the front side of the koden-gaeshi and decorate it with white and black or silver mizuhiki tied in a square knot. In the case of Christianity, you should write "召天記念 (Protestant)," "感謝," or "志" on the front side of the koden-gaeshi. No mizuhiki is used.
A greeting card is enclosed in the koden-gaeshi, which expresses thanks for attending the funeral and announces the end of the mourning period. The posthumous name of the deceased is often written in the greeting card. The phrase "七七日忌" or "七七忌" found in the Buddhism greeting card means the memorial service held on the forty-ninth day after the death.
However, in Hokkaido, a greeting card to express thanks for attending the funeral and an article having a monetary value of several hundreds yen are often given to a mourner together with a receipt for the Koden at the lykewake and no gift is sent in return for the Koden upon the end of mourning period.
In addition, in Ise region, koden-gaeshi is called "Daihiji (代非時)" and is given at the lykewake. As the Ise region is a famous tea producing area, tea is often given as a koden-gaeshi.
In addition, in parts of Nara Prefecture, an amount of cash equal to half the amount of the koden is returned when the koden is offered in order to eliminate work associated with giving a koden-gaeshi.
Background of Koden
Koden (香典) was originally written as "香奠," and "奠" is a character used to refer to an offering. Koden (香典 or 香奠) was not only an offering to the dead but also an assistance to the bereaved family who have encountered an unexpected misfortune.
Therefore, foods were often offered as Koden in rural areas in ancient times so that those foods could be provided as meals to Buddhist monks and mourners
It is also said that the concept of kegare (dirtiness/impurity) was dominant at that time, and a koden of food was offered to the bereaved family so that the bereaved family, who conducted the funeral, could avoid contact with other people so as not to spread this kegare.
In addition, friends of the deceased who participated in the preparation for the funeral or who attended the funeral took their meals separately at hotels or restaurants near the house of the deceased in order to avoid contacting the kegare as much as possible. Those meals were prepared separately from meals for the deceased or other people at the expense of the village. This was called "mura-koden" (lit. village koden). As the concept of kegare subsequently went into decline, friends, family and acquaintances of the deceased came to take meals together. In some regions, all the villagers started to attend funerals. It is believed that this is why not only koden from the relatives of the deceased but also from other people came to be given to the bereaved family. The monetary value of koden varied depending on the degree of intimacy with the deceased. There was a popular custom in which the children of the deceased who did not take the responsibility of chief mourner, were obliged to offer a barrel of rice wine in addition to a bag of rice or wheat. This was called "ippyo-koden" (lit. bag koden).
It is thought that it was in the Muromachi period that money started to be offered as koden together with a simple offering instead of foods for the Samurai class, but it was in or after the Meiji period, and even after World War II in some rural areas, that the same thing happened for ordinary people.