Death in Japan, how do the Japanese perceive it?

In a religious survey 29.5% of Japanese said they believe in the Life after death. 40% said they would like to believe in reincarnation. Most of those who believe are young. Furthermore, 54% of those surveyed believe in the existence of a soul. Up to 64.9% of those surveyed said that a person’s way of life is related in some way to their death. A good example of beliefs around death is depicted in the film Okuribito.

The film tells the story of Daigo Kobayashi, a cellist who becomes unemployed and ends up working preparing bodies. Although at first he does not like it at all, he ends up getting used to it and understands the dignity of work. Title, okuribito, refers to a door through which you have to pass to go to a distant and new place.

As in the film, the Japanese assume a relaxed and calm posture in the face of death. There are even those who express themselves in a positive and humorous way. In Japanese there is the word 「死 生 観」, “Vision of life and death.” This word shows a characteristic of the Japanese way of thinking: It emphasizes life through death. It is rare to find cases of Japanese raising their voices and crying at the death of a relative. Funerals are held solemnly and without disturbances.

Historically speaking, Japan has always been a country plagued by scarce resources and natural disasters. That is why life was seen as something transitory. Little by little the idea permeated that death was a form of purification and a means of leaving earthly goods behind. Good or bad people, all are purified upon death and attain Buddha status. Even the word 「仏 様」 refers to a Buddha or a deceased.

In Norwegian Forest, writer Haruki Murakami writes the following:

「死 は 生 の 対 極 と し て で は な く 、 そ の 一部 と し て 存在 し て い る」

Death exists, not as the opposite of life, but as part of it.

In Buddhism there is a similar belief:

「人 の 死 は 、 一 つ の 扉 か ら 来世 の 扉 へ 足 を 踏 み 入 れ る だ け の こ と」

Death is just a door through to the afterlife.

In both classical and modern literature, two Buddhist concepts appear: Yuugen and mono no aware. The first refers to admiration for the unknown. The second refers to the moment when one realizes the transience of things. In ancient times, among warriors there was a phrase that summed up the ephemerality of life:

夏 の 花 の 如 く 艶 や か に 生 き 、 秋 の 枯葉 の 如 く 穏 や か に 終 わ り を 迎 え よ。

Live with the elegance of a summer flower and welcome death with the calm of an autumn leaf.

In many literary works the spiritual of the bushido with the short life of cherry blossoms. From blooming to wilting, the flowers are only seven days old. Continuing with the comparison, the vision of cherry blossoms is as beautiful as the vision of when their petals fall.