Friday, March 25, 2011
In Japan, cremation is nearly universal and an important rite deeply rooted in Buddhism. But across the northeast coast of Japan, tradition has collided with mathematical reality. The number of missing and dead from the March 11 tsunami is now over 22,000, and there are far too many bodies to burn in the small towns where most people died.
Highasi-Matsushima, a seaport of 43,000 people, has already recovered 680 bodies and 500 more are missing. The town’s crematory can only accommodate four bodies a day. Reluctantly, the town has resorted to burial. On property that used to house the city garbage incinerator, long, narrow trenches were dug and partitioned into graves with pieces of plywood.
The government and families are trying to make the most of the situation. Each coffin is carried by six silent soldiers and rested with military precision and a silent salute. Friends and relatives bring what little flowers or gifts they have and light incense. Later, Buddhist monks come to the site and pray over the graves.
See Michael Wines, As Tsunami Robbed Life, It Also Robs Rite of Death, N.Y. Times, Mar. 23, 2011.
Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (WealthCounsel) for bringing this to my attention.