Cremation

Cremation followed Buddhism into Japan about A. D. 700, but never entirely superseded the older Shint(custom of disposing of the dead by interment. Ludicrous as it may appear, cremation was first discontinued in the case of the Mikados on the representations of a fishmonger named Hachibei, who clamoured for the interment of the Emperor Go-Kōmei in 1644. On the 18th July, 1873, cremation was totally prohibited by the Government, whose members seem to have had some confused notion as to the practice being un-European and therefore barbarous. Having discovered that far from being un-European, cremation was the goal of European reformers in such matters, they rescinded their prohibition only twenty-two months later (23rd May, 1875). There are now nine cremation grounds in Tōkyō. The charges for cremation vary from 7 yen to 1 1/2 yen for adults, and from 3 yen to 1 yen for children under six years of age. The good priest of whom we caused enquiry to be made on this point, said that poor folks often came begging to be let off more cheaply, but that in these hard times it was impossible to do so.

The system is quite simple, wood being the only fuel used. The corpse, enclosed in its wooden coffin, is thoroughly consumed in about three hours. Nothing remains but a few minute splinters of bone and the teeth, which latter are preserved and often sent to the great temple at Kōya-san. The ashes are placed in an urn and buried. We should add that on the 19th June, 1874, a law was passed against intramural interment, except in certain special cases. It is still prohibited, unless when the body has been cremated before burial.