Here’s a fascinating tsunami-aftermath story in the Los Angeles Times. It examines this predicament: how do you mark a death in tradition-bound Japan with no body to cremate?
One survivor, Shoichi Nakamura, has lost her brother. The lack of a body makes it difficult to have a proper osoushiki, or funeral ceremony, Nakamura said. Instead of using the remains of her brother and his family, she may have to use another family’s bone chips or ashes as a stand-in. The Buddhist priests have declared that an acceptable alternative, she said.
“I hear city hall may give them out,” she said.
Other options include collective ceremonies known as godousou, or cremation of the clothes, photographs or personal items of the deceased in lieu of a body. Even a pinch of dirt from the spot the dead were last seen may have to do.
“Many people will have to do this,” said Souichiro Tachibana, 50, a teacher at an evacuation center in Miyako. “Even though it may not be your exact relation, what’s important is to believe it is, for peace of mind. This is the last choice, but what can you do?”
Japan did something similar during World War II when large numbers of Japanese troops died overseas. The government would distribute sticks to the grieving families, saying they were from the war zone, said Shinya Yamada, assistant professor at Tokyo’s National Museum of Japanese History. “But who knows if it’s true?” he said.
Read the entire article here.
And there’s a good post on the same subject over at the excellent Death Reference Desk, here.