Urajimai (浦終い)

Urajimai is a Japanese custom of conducting traditional ceremonies and handling the aftermath of accidents at sea. Urajimai is also written as 浦仕舞 in Chinese characters. Its origin is the measures taken in the Edo period when cargo vessels met disasters.

It originated from the law of maritime affairs named 'Kaisen Shikimoku' (The Oldest Sea Law of Japan) established in the late Muromachi period. Later, details in dealing with marine disasters were stipulated in a customary law named 'Kaiji Shohatto' (various laws on sea routes) by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, and they remained as common laws in the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun).

Urajimai included not only religious ceremonies, but also a series of necessary procedures such as on-site investigations, compensations, bond issuance by officials and so on. There are mentions of urajimai on a stone monument at a shrine in Kobe City.

Even today, the custom of urajimai still remains in coastal areas.

When there was a news about a shipwreck, gyogi (manager) of kaisen donya (wholesaler in port) and sodai (representative of consignors) were dispatched to the coast near the accident site, where they investigated the extent of damage (this is called 'ura-aratame'). They dealt with all tasks such as verifying and accepting wrecked and unloaded cargo from the wrecked ship, which had been sealed by the port officials, receiving ura-shomon (a certification of the wreckage) which was jointly signed by the port officials, occasional disposing of wet cargo, reshipping of the cargo, and paying moorage at the port.

Ura-shomon was a bond to certify wrecked cargo and fittings left on a wrecked ship, which was issued in the presence of such persons as a magistrate, a clerk, and a village headman. In August 1636, the Edo bakufu issued a shipwreck control ordinance in order to prevent crew members of the wrecked ship from stealing the ship's cargo, because they often conspired with the port workers, lying that they had to throw the cargo into the sea because of the shipwreck. The bond (called 'Ura-Kousatsu'), which was posted on the bulletin board, was required to verify a shipwreck. In all cases, cargo owner's and the captain's responsibilities for the damages were decided by the bond.

Case example
On February 19, 2008, the Aegis (escort ship) Atago of Japan's Marine Defense Force collided with a fishing boat off the coast of Nojimazaki, Chiba Prefecture, where two crew members of the fishing boat, who were actually a father and son, went missing. Despite the desperate search by the Marine Self-Defense Force, Japan Coast Guard and the local fishermen's association, the father and son were not found. When the fishermen's association gave up the search on February 25, ceremonies such as reciting Buddhist sutras and offering of flowers were conducted as urajimai.