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Funeral traditions fall apart after Japan's tsunami

Funeral traditions fall apart after Japan's tsunami
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They are forced to bury their dead in mass graves.

It is an almost unthinkable practice in Japan where most people believe cremation is needed to release the body’s spirit.

But incinerators in the tsunami-stricken town of Higashimatsushima cannot keep up with the sheer number of bodies. Hence families’ painful decision to lay their loved ones to rest in a different way, for now.

“The facilities can only cremate six or seven bodies a day and it takes two to three hours per body,” explained Higashimatsushima resident Masahiro Kimura. “The bodies will rot so we can’t do that. So we are temporarily burying them here and, in around two or three months, we will dig them up and cremate them.”

Hundreds of the 27,000 dead and missing from Japan’s double disasters are from this northeast coastal town. The giant waves swept away everything in their path. Even the cemetery was devastated.

Having repaired his own father’s tombstone, Kiro Katakura from Higashimatsushima expressed sorrow for all those recently bereaved.

The burials continue relentlessly on a specially designated site, with room for 1,000 bodies. Permission from bereaved relatives is required. But they will not be able to grieve properly until a future cremation.

In traditional Japanese Buddhist practice, the dead are brought home and exposed. After a wake, funeral and cremation, their ashes are placed in an urn, which is kept by families for weeks or months, before being placed in the ground.

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