In the 1994 20.5% of South Koreans chose cremation, this figure has shot up to 86% last year. A massive change in less than a generation.
I have never known any county’s funeral practises to change as radically as quickly, in the UK the same change took three times as long a an we are still not at 86%
This massive shift was reported in the Korea Herald and was based on a Korean the Ministry of Health and Welfare report.
The rational from the report was: “Many find it too troublesome to maintain grave sites, which require regularly cutting weeds and grass,”
“On top of people becoming more practical, there are environmental concerns as well. We live in a small country and there isn’t enough land for burial sites.”
Interesting the report also showed that more Koreans are also interested in eco-friendly ways to bury cremated ashes.
“I would like to choose to go back to nature after death, in the most genuine way possible,” said Jang Ha Yeon, a 27-year-old office worker in Seoul.
“Having a grave site for myself feels like being a burden to mother nature. I hope to be cremated for sure. I’m not sure how I would like my ashes to be treated yet. But the idea of ‘Bios Urn’ sounds nice.”
In response to this and the growing number of predicted deaths the Korean government is set to increase the number of crematoria and number on eco-friendly sites at which to bury them.
This all seems too quick to me, the rise in cremations that is. Funeral practises for any country tend to be follow a slow trajectory of change. Beliefs and traditions are established over generations and it takes generations to change them so why is Korea different?
Here I think is possibly one reason – Religion. I had a look at the religious make up of Korea and I found something that surprised me. Over half the population (56%- 2015 national census) identify themselves as having no formal affiliation with a religion. With remaining population made up mainly from the following the groups Protestantism (19.7%), Buddhism (15.5%), and Catholicism (7.9%).
Is it the lack of religious doctrine that has enable a population to radically and quickly change their funeral practise, more than their desire to be free of grave maintenance? Well I think it could well account for the rate of change if not the catalyst.