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In Japan: the urns keep the bones too

In the past, the Kanto people ( in the eastern part of Japan) keep all the body parts and put them in Urns. The sizes of the urns in Kanto area hence are bigger than 7suns (1sun= 3.3cm). However, Kansai people ( in the western part of Japan) collect only the arms, chests, breasts, hips and legs bones and also the rest of ashes and put them in urns which are 3-5 suns. That’s why in Japan there are two different sizes of urns.



Some people divide the ashes into two urns : one for larynx, one for non-larynx. People keep the bones of the important parts in the larynx urn, is called “partial bone collection” or “Kotsuage”.


During the raising of the bones ceremony, a man and a woman work together to pick up each single bone, or one person picks up a bone and passes it to the other person with chopsticks and then puts it in an urn.



Firstly the ashes are put at the bottom of the urn, then bones are placed into the urn starting with the feet so that the body is feet-down in the urn, like a natural human stance. The flow of picking up the remains is: legs, arms, waist, spine, ribs, teeth, skull, larynx.



The larynx looks like the Buddha sitting in meditation, so it is the most important part and it is put in the urn at the end. The Japanese believe that it makes offerings to the spirits of the dead and praying for the souls of the dead. The order of people picking bone is: chief mourner -> bereaved family -> relatives -> friends and acquaintances who are related to the deceased.


The collected bones are returned home and set on an alter in front of the butsudan. The urn contains bones stay 49 days at the home, after that the urn is transferred to family grave.



Ashes that are not placed in an urn due to partial collections are held in a another urn at the crematorium.


It is also important to use chopsticks when picking up the bones, and it is said that they serve as a bridge to the Sanzu River, where the deceased crosses from this world to the next. Chopsticks can be of different types such as wood and bamboo, and can be of different lengths. For example, “hashi-wasashi, awase-hashi” , in which food is not passed from chopstick to chopstick, and “different chopsticks”, in which chopsticks made of different materials are not allowed to be used.

The reason why the method of collection of the bones differs depending on the region is that since cremation practice began to spread in western Japan, the crematorium and the cemetery were close to each other, so it was possible to collect the bones partially and bury the rest in the cemetery as it was, but in eastern Japan where cremation took place were far away from the cemetery, it was necessary to collect all the bones.


In the 2000s the hand memorial service appeared because of the changes in family structures and living environments, such as the fact that graves in the countryside cannot be inherited, there are no graves, and people living in apartments cannot have Buddhist altars. Nowadays people select and put the small bones into the small urns and put it in the smaller Buddhist altars at home. Some other treatments of ashes like make it into jewellery or poetries.




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