Reader S.B. seeks advice on how to deal with arrangements following the death of a foreign relative in Japan.
This process can be very complicated for family and friends, especially if they are non-Japanese. You will need two documents: The first is the death certificate, or shibo todoke kisaishomeisho; the second is the Certificate for Burial or Cremation — maiso kaso kyokasho in Japanese. Both these documents can usually be obtained at the local police station.
However, permission for either document may not be granted in the first 24 hours after passing, as the police are duty-bound to investigate the circumstances of the death. If they conclude it was a natural death, permission will be granted. If there is any area of concern, they may order an autopsy, and this can take days.
In addition, you will need to contact the embassy representing the deceased. The paperwork involved depends on the embassy, but most will be able to issue a death certificate.
The first decision you will have to make is whether to cremate and/or inter in Japan or overseas. The arrangements for the funeral also need to be considered. This is a very complicated matter, but there are a number of mortuaries that can take care of all the arrangements — be they cremation in Japan and/or transportation of the body, or ashes, overseas. The U.S. Embassy offers good, detailed advice for its citizens at tokyo.usembassy.gov/e/acs/tacs-7125d.html.
Remember that in Japan cremation is the norm, especially since the end of the war. Space is considered to be at such a premium these days that generally permission is not granted for a regular burial. In addition, burials must take place in a registered burial ground, and the restrictions at these facilities are generally quite strict, with most now requiring cremation.
In most cases, relatives tend to opt for cremation and the return of the ashes to the deceased’s home country, although some families do prefer to fly the body back for the funeral and viewing. The remains can be transported on a commercial flight, but must be handed over immediately on landing in the destination country to a registered mortuary. One company that has extensive experience in this area is Air Hearse. They can be found at www.airhearse.com.
A sad task, but with a little effort a dignified farewell can be arranged.
By the way, more and more people recently are requesting that their ashes be scattered — please be aware that this is technically illegal in Japan.