第309課: Funeral

Burial customs in Japan are very serious and complex. In this lesson, you will learn a lot about what is appropriate and what is not.

What to Do

When a person dies, 香典こうでん is usually given as a funeral gift of money to the family at the vigil or funeral. This is given in an envelope called a 熨斗袋のしぶくろ. This is a general term for envelopes for giving money, so you'll see more specific terms later in this section. This envelope looks different depending on religion, so you will need to be careful and ask for what is appropriate. For instance, if there is a picture of a lotus on it, it should only be used for those who follow Buddhism. What is put in the inscription is not an easy question, and it depends heavily on the religious beliefs of the deceased. It also doesn't help that there isn't unilateral decision on what to do. 


 What is 香典?

In 香典, there is this meaning of 持ちつ持たれつ・相互扶助そうごふじょ (give-and-take). The amount of money you give is based on your relation to the person. The most common amounts are 5000円, 3000円, and 10,000円, but the latter may be avoided as it is deemed unlucky by many to give an amount with an initial even digit. If you are unable to give much money, you should write 菊一輪きくいちりん. The money should also be new bills found at a bank or 郵便局. What to put on the top of the paper envelope (表書き) is no easy matter.

Grammar Note: This つ is an old particle equivalent to たり.  


 The 中包み

In the inside, the front side of the card (中包み) should have the amount to be given in old-style characters (大字). So, 壱, 弐, 参, 四, 五・伍, 六, 七, 八, 九, 拾, 百, 千, and 萬 should be used instead. 円 should be spelled as 圓. The name and address of the individual should be written on the back side. This is to keep the sadness of the death to be underneath. 


 御香典

The first thing to note is that ご・お should be written in 御 to show more respect. 御香典 may be safe if you don't know the religion. It may be read as either おこうでん or ごこうでん, but the first is the most common, and the decision may also deal with specific sect. Regardless of reading, this is not appropriate for Shinto followers. So, 御霊前ごれいぜん is felt by many others as the most appropriate heading. 


For Shinto Followers

     If the person is a Shinto believer, 御神前ごしんぜん or 御玉串料おんたまぐしりょう may be used. 御榊料おさかきりょう, 御神饌料ごしんせんりょう, and 御供物料おそなえものりょう may also be acceptable. 初穂料はつほりょう is written in an envelope addressed to the Shinto shrine. 幣料ぬさりょう may be used on the 金包み with the money for the おはら (purification) costs.


 For Christians

For Christians, 御花料おはなりょう or おんミサ料・御弥撒料 (for Catholics) may be used. Using 漢字, of course, makes things more formal. You may also see 御花環料おんはなわりょう. For design-less 不祝儀袋ぶしゅうぎぶくろ, which equates to 熨斗袋 in the sense that it is an envelope for a misfortunate occasion,  ご霊前 may be acceptable.


For Buddhists

御霊前 can be possibly used even if a person is Buddhist, Shinto follower, or Christian. However, if the person is of the 浄土真宗じょうどしんしゅう sect, you should use 御仏前 instead. If you can't find this out, 御霊前 is acceptable. So, it can be used if you don't know the religious of the person. You can also use this for 御供物 (flowers).

御霊前・御香典 can be used on the vigil or funeral, but 御仏前ごぶつぜん・御佛前 should be used after the Buddhist service on the 49th day the person has died. 御香料ごこうりょう御香華料ごこうげりょう is also acceptable for this occasion. However, as mentioned earlier, 御仏前・御佛前 is acceptable for all the above in the 浄土真宗 Buddhism. 佛 is the old form of 仏, which makes it more formal.


 Contacting the Family

If the person is a loved one of your family or a close family, you should contact the family as soon as you can. If it is an acquaintance of some sort, you should wait until after the vigil to give your condolences. When you do receive contact, make sure to not only give your condolences but also find out the time and place of the vigil and funeral as well as the person's religion. If you already gave your 香典 at the vigil, you should only write your name in the register at the funeral. 


 弔電

If you unable to attend either or if it is business related, you should send a 弔電ちょうでん, This is literally a "condolence telegram", but there ways of doing this through phone and fax. The 表書き for this should be 御弔料おとむらいりょう along with the name of the company/organization. However, you should consult others for this as well as practices vary in acceptability. In it, you should have 〇〇〇〇様ご遺族様 in it. The prefix 故 means “late” as in “the late Mr. Smith”. 遺族 means “the family of the deceased”. 様 is attached to show respect.  


 Not Knowing the Person

It is also appropriate to 御悔おくやみ if the person is not someone you are close or related to. However, using one of the more appropriate, religious focused headings is more respectful.


Thanks to the お寺・僧侶

      There are also phrases to show thanks to the temple/monks.

御布施おふせ: Used to give thanks to the temple and or monks for a Buddhist funeral.

御経料: This is the same as 御布施.

読経御礼どきょうおんれい: It is used in the same sense as 御経料. おれい may be used a lot instead, but おんれい is more formal. Don’t pronounce 読経 as どっきょう.

戒名料かいみょうりょう: This is used for showing thanks for the posthumous Buddhist name being given to the deceased.

御回向料ごえこうりょう: This is used for showing thanks for reading out a sutra at the funeral.

御車料おくるまりょう: This is used for travel expenses.

御膳料おぜんりょう: Used for food costs. It may also be 御食事料.
御足衣料ごそくいりょう: This may also be used for travel expenses. 


 配り物

If you were to be in the position of presenting a gift for a funeral offering, there are a few phrases for this.

こころざし: Used in Buddhist and Shinto styles. This is used as a return gift for 香典 or 法要ほうよう (Buddhist service).

粗供養そくよう: Present from a 法要. 

Final Note: As you can see, funeral arrangements in Japanese culture is very complex. However, this also shows us just how complex お~ and ご~ phrases may be. As this section illustrates, you may even see おん~.