The Muslim population continues to grow in Japan, but only a few cemeteries in this country, where cremation is the norm, offer funeral arrangements based on their religion.
An estimated 230,000 Muslims lived in Japan at the end of 2020, according to Hirofumi Tanada, professor emeritus of sociology at Waseda University.
But only seven cemeteries in Japan accept Muslim burials.
The entire Kyushu region does not have one, despite the efforts of the Beppu Muslim Association in Beppu, Oita Prefecture, in the south of the main island.
The association planned to open a cemetery for Muslim burials in the city known for its “onsen” spas. However, local residents opposed it.
The group then submitted a petition to the Department of Health in June last year, asking it to open “multicultural cemeteries”, where people can be buried based on their religion or for other reasons.
“For Muslims, cremation is disrespect for the dead,” said Khan Muhammmmad Tahir, head of the association and professor of communications network engineering at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. “The idea of burning corpses is more painful and agonizing than beating them.”
Tahir said Muslims face huge problems if there is no local cemetery that will accept their burials.
He said transporting bodies to distant places in Japan or even overseas is technically difficult and expensive.
Many Muslims have lived in Japan for decades and are fully settled in the country.
Tahir, for example, is a naturalized Japanese citizen with a family in Japan.
He said that for himself and other longtime Muslim residents in Japan, being transported to their home countries after death is not a realistic option.
There are also Japanese Muslims who plan to be buried in their home country of Japan.
A cemetery in Japan that accepts Muslim burials is Honjo Kodama Seichi Reien (Honjo Kodama Cemetery) in Honjo, Saitama Prefecture.
The cemetery has 42 graves, some with white headstones inscribed with Arabic text. Some graves are just mounds without headstones.
“The people buried here were of different nationalities and had different levels of wealth,” said Sosuke Hayakawa, 75, the cemetery director. “The graves are different from each other for these reasons.”
The cemetery started accepting Muslim burials in June 2019. The first Muslim buried here was a Ghanaian who resided in Soka, Saitama prefecture.
Since then, Muslims of various nationalities have been buried in the cemetery, according to its records. They include Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Iranians, South Africans, Chinese, Saudis and Indonesians.
The records also listed the name of a Japanese woman, who was probably married to a Muslim.
Hayakawa observed many burials at the cemetery.
Recently, a 10-year-old Bangladeshi child who grew up in Japan was buried here.
“The child’s father was crying when he closed the lid of the coffin. He then stayed inside the burial hole and did not come out for a while,” Hayakawa said.
The tradition of burying bodies continued in nearby areas before Hayakawa opened the cemetery in 1995.
At that time, an official from a local public health center asked him if he wanted permission to open the cemetery as one that accepts burials.
This issue prompted his decision to accept burials in all areas of the cemetery, covering 56,200 square meters.
But he received no burial requests for many years after the cemetery opened.
Additionally, a consumer trend has accelerated for “closed” graves, in which the headstone is removed and the right to use the land is returned to the cemetery.
Hayakawa was struggling financially when a director of a mosque in Tokyo asked if his cemetery could accept Muslim burials.
Hayakawa was pleased with the request as he could finally put the permission he received to accept burials to good use.
He also needed the revenue to maintain and preserve the existing graves at the cemetery.
Since then, Hayakawa has continued to receive burial requests from Muslims living in Japan, thanks to word of mouth about the cemetery.
The number of such requests has increased by more than 15 each year.
Hayakawa did not hesitate to market his funeral services as burials were customary in Japan when he was a child.
His grandmother and older sister who died 30 years ago were both buried.
“Buddhists or Muslims, our feeling of mourning the dead is the same. It’s just that there are different religions that suit different eras or regions better, I guess,” Hayakawa said.
BURIALS WERE THE STANDARD
According to the Cremation Society of Great Britain, 99.97% of the dead in Japan in 2019 were cremated. This is much more than 39.01% in France, 30.68% in Italy and 54.58% in the United States. In South Korea, the ratio was 88.01%.
However, burials were once the norm in Japan.
“In ancient times in Japan, when someone died, we used to euphemistically say, ‘Send the dead back to the mountains,’ or ‘The dead return to the ground,'” said Shigeyuki Takahashi, a reporter. who has written many books on topics related to death or bereavement.
Takahashi believes that burials have gradually lost popularity in Japan, partly due to the increase in crematoriums, as well as a social betterment movement pushed by government and private parties in the 20th century to modernize fashions. Japanese life.
He said the number of burials decreased significantly after the start of the Heisei era (1989-2019).
* Non-exhaustive list of cemeteries in Japan that accept Muslim burials, according to the Japan Muslim Association and other sources
Yoichi Reien in Yoichi, Hokkaido
Honjo Kodama Seichi Reien in Honjo, Saitama Prefecture
Monju In Enzan Islam Reien in Koshu, Yamanashi Prefecture
Shimizu Reien in Shimizu Ward, Shizuoka
Osaka Reien Islamic Center in Hashimoto, Wakayama Prefecture