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Japanese ashes unclaimed

Ashes of thousands of unclaimed Japanese WWII civilian casualities

Japan has a legacy of thousands of set of unclaimed ashes that have remained stored in temples around the country since the end of WWII, despite the person being identified.

The families of more than 7,400 people have yet to claim ashes stored in eight cities across Japan, many of these victims died in US aids some got caught cross of the advancing forces.

In an effort to reunite the unclaimed remains, the newspaper Asahi Shimbun who first reported on the issue has tried to help contacting local authorities, private-sector organizations, temples and other parties. The Japanese government has always focussed on reuniting members of the armed forces but this is not the same for civilians killed in the conflict.

Occasionally families come in search of a loved one, but this is the exception. It is thought likely that sometimes that there is no one to collect the ashes as also perished in the conflict and the fact it was difficult at the time due to sheer numbers.

“The wartime authorities prioritised hiding corpses rather than identifying them so as not to lower citizens’ morale,” said Katsumoto Saotome, director of the Centre of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage. “If the authorities had actively sought bereaved families of the remains immediately following the war, more ashes may have been returned to their relatives by now.”

However this number pales when one considers that the Paper also learned that unidentified remains of more than 300,000 people were buried together at temples and other facilities in Okinawa, Tokyo and 11 other cities.

These numbers are significant ancestral worship is an important part of Japanese culture, which is demonstrate by the fact that this is issue 60 years on.

original article:

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buddhist cremation relics

Iconic Buddhist monk’s cremation relics go on display


The Rosemead Buddhist temple in Los Angles is opening its door to the public, displaying a huge collection of relics.

This year the collection has even more artefacts, perhaps the most notable of its new relics from the Venerable Thich Quang Duc. The Buddhist monk who in 1963  in south Vietnam set fire to himself in in protest of over government repression on of Buddhism. This iconic act of self-immolation was captured on camera and made headlines around the world. An act that later became recognised as the turning point in the Buddhist crisis and a significant moment in the collapse of the American supported Diem regime.” The temple describes them and relics; we can take this to mean cremated remains.

The temple’s collection is famous with over ten thousand artefacts many of them are Sharia crystals: which are crystallised remains that from when cremation conditions are right and are considered to be extremely precious. In fact they are considered to have supernatural properties, such as the ability to emanate aromas or reproduce spontaneously (although presumably the last ability only happens when your back is turned)

The temple is even said to have the two teeth and a finger bone of the Buddha himself (nice!) “[These] are sacred religious artefacts highly revered throughout the world,” according to temple spokeswoman Vickie Sprout.

The temple first exhibited to the public in 2013, the collection has grown  through donations from all over the world, including Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Vietnam and Cambodia.



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tibetian bhuddism ashes water

Tibetan Buddhist thinking may not favour water burials for ashes

I have often thought that the more you read the less you really know, this I often feel when considering the stances of the various world religions and subdivisions thereof.

Tibetan Bhuddiam has a slightly different take on many aspects of doctrine compared to other forms of Buddhism. Mr Khenpo Karma Tharchin Rinpoche, a senior lama of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism was asked about whether it was a good idea to scatter ashes over water.

He appears to be of the opinion that this may not necessarily be the best course of a action, principally due to the welfare of the decedents: firstly there is no evident dharmic (cosmic law and order) reason for this for a water burial, but there is another reason too (the main reason).

Now I am going to try and explain what I think the rationale is in a way that makes sense to us more familiar to western ways of thinking. After death the consciousness of a person moves on for rebirth what remains is called a persons ‘la’* (you may choose to describe this as spirit – but it is not consciousness or soul or mind). This is the spirit of your ancestral line. I am gong to embarrass myself here, the closest I can get to this understanding at present is the dragon in the Disney cartoon Mulan – I know I know hardy high brow, but I was watching it with the kids the other day and blurted out ‘Oh right, that’s the family spirit’, this received concerned stares form my offspring but nothing more. Anyway I digress, these spirits inhabit the burial site of the body or ashes, so it stand to reason they don’t want to anywhere awful.

Therefore if the body is interred in a lovely place with excellent feng shui, then this will nourish this spirit. If the family’s spirit is nourished, the descendants of that person will benefit because the spirit will add its strength to those alive, on the other hand if it is in a bad place then the spirit will become weak and this may manifest itself in bad luck, illness or general mishaps. Therefore a columbarium where all things can be ‘just so’ maybe the best option and a water burial may not…

* I am sense that when you are in Liverpool and local addresses you with the phrase ‘Alright La!’ that he or she is likely to addressing you, as opposed to a cosmic denizen sitting on your shoulder… but you never know, so next time swivel quickly just to check.


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japan bone crushing rental

Make your own ashes: Japanese bone crushing apparatus for rent


Now here’s a franchise opportunity you are unlikely to see on Dragons Den: Rental of bone crushing apparatus.

The Japanese tradition is to cremate and then place the bones of the loved one in an urn, I have already posted on this – Japanese cremation. Normally what happens is for the urn to be placed at the family grave. However Japanese society is changing and more Japanese (not huge amounts) are looking to scatter the ashes of their loved ones. Why? Well there appears to be two main reasons for this: freedom of expression – people are asking to be scattered at a place they are associated with: at sea or on a hill for example, the second is more practical, with an aging population and a more transient society families don’t wish to burden their offspring with the responsibility and cost of maintaining a family plot.

So to assist families wishing to scatter, a company rents out a machine to turn the bones into powder.  I think to Western sensibilities this process would be a bit much, but what one must remember is that after the cremation in Japan, it is the family that place the bones of the deceased into an urn themselves. Anyway for the princely sum of 17,000 Yen (~£100) the company will provide you with plastic sheeting and manual press which works on leverage and a small amount of force. The device was designed so that the inner parts can be replaced to prevent the mixing of ashes from previous users. As a fairly seasoned writer on the subject I did think ‘Oh blimey’ when they said the family had to break the bones, that were too large, with a stick before some would fit into the machine.

Then with about three hours labour the body is reduced to a fine white powder the consistency of sand. And the demand for this service? Well the owner gets a dozen or so requests a month (it appears you can have this service provided professionally too, but often people mistrust that they are getting back what they handed over)

A woman, her two daughters and her son and daughter-in-law used the service after her husband died in a climbing accident she decided she wanted to put him back into nature. The lady felt that it would be best to do it themselves and after consulting the family they went ahead. They were interviewed on their experience.

The son said: “I never thought I would be involved in the crushing of Dad’s bones,” [I bet not!]

“You still remain strong,” explained his wife

“I was able to display my feelings because it took so much time and effort,” she said.  [I know this all sounds a bit macabre to most reader of this blog, but what a lovely sentiment]

It did make me think that as we become increasing globalised there are still so many cultural differences that I can’t see ‘norming’ any time soon, although it is perhaps then a little surprising that the law on scattering in Japan is fairly vague and relaxed and fairly similar to what we have in the UK.

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emperors ashes

Japanese Emperor and Empress choose cremation

The Japanese emperor and empress plan to break from tradition when they die and have chosen to be cremated (burial has been the norm for recent generations) and to have a more modest mausoleum than their ancestors. This is a big deal in Japan, the Japanese tend to by fairly conservative (sorry for the sweeping generalisation) in matter of tradition so this has caused some debate with the Land of the Rising Sun.

Why? Well apparently the request the imperial couple’s for cremation partly because it is common practice in Japanese society and they hope to ‘progress with their people’. Also they were concerned over concerns about a lack of space for mausoleums in the Musashino Imperial Graveyard in the city of Hachioji, western Tokyo.

However when we say lack of space, it is not in the same reality that most of us would refer to lack of space. Whilst the new mausoleum will be 80% of the size of his fathers (Emperor Hirohito), it will still be  a whooping 3500msq. Let me put this into context, the average size of a new build house in the UK is 79msq and in the US and Australia around 200msq, so we are taking the area of about 44 new homes.

There will be two Mausoleums: one for the Emperor Akihito and one for the Empress Michiko. Based on Akihito’s request, the agency considered putting his and Michiko’s ashes in one mausoleum. However, the empress said such a plan would be too great an honour. She is quoted as saying  “I want to decline the idea though I deeply thank the emperor’s intention,”.  She also said that if she dies before her husband, the mausoleum for them would be constructed while he is still alive.

There seems to be no contradiction with this plan and the couple other wish that their funeral services to have as little impact on the public as possible, and the Imperial Agency’s statement that cremation rituals will be incorporated into their funerals, but the agency will consider measures to prevent the ceremonies from increasing the financial burden on the public.

The mausoleum for Empress Michiko will be a little smaller than that for Emperor Akihito. Both of the graves, though, will have the same shape consisting of a domed top and a square base.

In summary the couple’s stance is about taking into account the “needs of the times” while respecting tradition, or so the agency said. Not quite what to think really, I am not Japanese royalty so it is quite difficult to imagine the world through their eyes, I suppose they could hardly go for an eco-coffin and scattered over Mount Fuji.

Original source: picture  (c) the Ashi Shimbunjapanese ashes emperor mausoleum

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Japanese cremation ashes rituals

Japanese cremation ashes rituals: Kotsuage and Bunkotsu


Japanese culture around the collection and burial of cremation ashes is highly ritualised. Shinotism, a ‘religion’ closely associated with Buddhism is observed in Japan and ancestral worship is central to this.

The funeral ritual has twenty stages and there are over 20 procedures, we are mainly interested in two of these: Kotsuage which is the gathering of a person’s ashes, and Bunkotsu the distribution of the ashes.

The ritual starts at the crematoria, the family witnesses the deceased being placed in the crematoria chamber and they are then given an allotted time to return. Once the ashes and have had time to cool the family, two at a time, remove the bone fragments with large chopsticks. They start at the feet moving  upwards and placing the remains in a cremation urn – as they don’t want the person to be upside down. The most sacred and significant bone is the hyoid bone, which is located in the neck – probably due the connection between the brain and the body?

The ashes can be placed in more than one urn, it is not uncommon for the ashes to shared between the family, the temple and even the deceased’s company!

The urn stays at the family at a shrine for 35 days and is then taken to the graveyard, some families take it to the graveyard straight away – it appears to depend on local custom.

Japanese cultural is markedly different to western culture and funerals in both tend to be a high water mark of this, aspects of which each would find the others rather odd. Here is what I find fascinating:

The cremated bones are not reduced in size as they are many western cultures, so the bones that remain large in size after cremation (eg the thigh bone) requires two of the relatives to hold with their chopsticks at the same time (or passing it quickly between each other) sharing one item between two sets of chopsticks is a considered a serious faux pas at any other time as it reminds people of funerals.

Families often have shrines which contain cremated remains of a number of members of the family, these are important to family rituals and are passed down through the family. And if there is no one left for them to be passed onto they are place in the graveyard.

Now one of the more striking differences is Company graves, it is not uncommon for the ashes to be buried at the deceased’s company graveyard, which can even have themed gravestones (eg coffee company gravestones in the shape of a coffee cup!). I know the Japanese and the British have a very different view on work, but I do find this difficult to comprehend, as a Brit I have been imbued with love/hate relationship with my employer, in Japan the employer in held in massive esteem as a provider of wealth – which is better I wonder? What am I saying? I am Brit for goodness sake! Of the course the semi cynical, distrusting, resentful gratitude is a better approach!




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Repatriation Abroad Ashes Cremated Remains Sending

Repatriation of ashes or sending ashes abroad


Repatriation Abroad Ashes Cremated Remains Sending

Sending ashes abroad or repatriating them can be a difficult problem, few couriers are willing to handle them, mainly due to the fact that they are beyond value to a loved one – so how could you put a price on that? The second issue is the paperwork – every country seems to have a different take on it – the Philippines, for example, treat the ashes the same as they would a body.

The good news is we have teamed up with the UK leading courier service for ashes, specialists who can help every step of the way. They offer a personal and professional service taking care of the bureaucracy and paperwork. And for whom we have received nothing but good reports. The other reason we like them is because they operate a transparent and ethical pricing policy

For example sending a cremation ashes urn of up to 10 Kg (21lbs) can be delivered ‘Door to Door’ UK mainland for £60, Air freighted to EU destinations £175 and the rest of the world from £200 to £350.  Plus Fuel Surcharge and VAT (current UK rate is 20%). Prices can go up a bit for countries with complex procedures and charges.

They are an Associate Members of National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors

To make an enquiry or for a quote:

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ashes in the post

Can you send cremation ashes in the post?


You cannot send the whole amount of cremated human remains / cremation ashes in the post. You can however send up to 50g of ashes.

The Post Office prohibits the full amount being sent either: nationally via Royal Mail and Parcelforce and internationally through Parcelforce Worldwide UK, which includes mail services: First Class, Second Class and Special Delivery

The consequence is that Royal Mail and Parcelforce Worldwide cannot accept responsibility for loss or damage to items, not that you will fined for sending them.

This is what they say:

  • UK & International  – Allowed in the mail, see  restrictions and packaging guidelines below:
    • Volume per item must not exceed 50g.
    • Ashes must be placed in a sift-proof container and securely closed. Items must be tightly packed in strong outer packaging and must be secured or cushioned to prevent any damage.
    • The sender’s name and return address must be clearly visible on the outer packaging.

Here is the link to Prohibited Goods on the Post Office Website – What can I send?

We can arrange the transport of ashes both nationally and internationally – transporting cremation ashes

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cremation ashes malaysia

Malaysian Religious organisation seizes cremation ashes

cremation ashes malaysia

Here we have first case I that I have read about, where someone’s ashes have been seized.

Mrs M Nagamah passed away on the 14 August and “According to her family, she lived her life as a Hindu and died a Hindu. They were preparing to give her a Hindu funeral,” said Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) national advisor N.Ganesan.

She was duly cremated, prior to her ashes being scattered. But before they could do this her ashes were taken from the crematoria by the Penang Islamic Affairs Department (JAIPP). Note: in the previous article it refers to them as the Penang Religious Affairs Department so I can’t work out their status or if there is any inherent basis.

Anyway the ashes were removed without any permission, documentation or evidence. Preventing the family form performing her last rights which need to be carried 14 days after the cremation.

However her status as a Hindu is refuted – State Islamic Religious Affairs Committee chairman Datuk Abdul Malik Abul Kassim who was reported as saying that Mrs Nagamah, who is also known as Nagamah Mariah Abdullah, had converted to Islam after marrying a Mr Ibrahim Noyan and together they had nine children who were registered as Muslims by the National Registration Department.

Prior to the cremation the JAIPP went to the family home to demand that the family surrender her body to them for a Muslim burial, the family refused the claim as the JAIPP had no evidence she had converted to Islam.

Ganesan said that Nagamah’s eldest son M. Kamasantheran, 46 could not fulfill his religious obligations required of all Hindus – the ‘Karumakirei’ ceremony.

During the ceremony, cremated remains of the deceased are strewn into a river so that the ‘Atma’ (soul) may attain ‘Shanti’ (peace).

“Hindraf views this continuing acts of body snatching (in whatever form) seriously, as it is done with impunity and without due regard of the law.

“In Hindraf’s opinion, this is just to make a point about the superiority of Islam over other religions in the country,” he said in a statement.

So far 18 police reports were lodged by friends and family against JAIPP and the state mufti Datuk Hassan Ahmad.

I am awaiting further developments (I have emailed the author), however I am left wondering about the complex family relationship. If the eldest son is a Hindu was there a second marriage? I thought you had to convert to Islam if you married a Muslim? And why didn’t the husband (presumably Muslim) manage the funeral, was he also deceased? Whatever the circumstances it is such a shame, as it does lead to such dreadful divisions.


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scattering ashes nepal

Nepal: Scattering cremation ashes 13 day ceremony


The Nepali Congress has decided to scatter the ashes of their former Prime Minister in every one of the thirteen districts in a thirteen day ritual.

Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, a Hindu, who became Nepal’s first Prime Minister died at the age 87 of after multiple organ failure.

In Nepal that the scattering of ashes is fundamental part of the funeral ritual. What I can’t seem to find out is whether the ashes were all scattered over water.

In case you weren’t aware Nepal is 80% Hindu and 10% Buddhist…

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cremation metal recycling

Japanese companies make money from people’s cremation ashes


In Japan regulators are looking into the appropriate disposal of cremated ash remains.

Apparently some companies are tendering to dispose of persons cremation ashes for one Yen each (or about 1 pence!). What do they mean don’t people take their ashes back? Well some do and some don’t it would seem bit like in the UK. However it appears to be different from the UK in a couple of ways:

a) firstly the crematoria don’t remove the metals which has lead to the situation where companies dispose of the ashes for very little because of the precious metal they can extract.

It went onto give quantities which are quite surprising “The Nagoya Municipal Government said that 59 tons of cremated remains in fiscal year 2009 produced 3.9 kilograms of gold, 13.6 kilograms of silver, 0.1 kilograms of platinum, and four kilograms of palladium — a total of 21.6 kilograms. These precious metals sold for about 17 million yen (£130,000), an increase from 14.5 million yen (£110,000) in fiscal 2008.”

b) the article says that ” Normally people’s ashes are melted or ground up, and stored in depositories or buried on the grounds of crematoriums.” …melted?

The article was interesting on an number of other accounts. Firstly it raised the issue the presence of a serious pollutant present in the ash ” [a] chemical reaction in stainless steel platforms on which coffins are placed occurred during the cremation process produces hexavalent chromium and other dangerous chemicals.”

Secondly if companies were making large profits from the precious metal why this would increase the risk of inappropriate disposal of ash?

Lastly a strange moral conundrum for the local authorities, they were vexed by the question of whether they had a right to the value from the precious metal and should they require the income back from the disposer, the argument as we understanding it presents as thus:  “Many local governments, however, remain hesitant to [reclaim the income], saying that using people’s remains as a source of income is difficult when considering the feelings of residents.” . Wouldn’t people prefer that it gets put back into the State’s coffers to build schools rather than increasing profits for private companies?

Short article but fascinating –

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vietnam ashes

Not allowed alongside fallen comrades…



A French General asked for his funeral ashes to be scattered alongside those of his fallen comrades in Vietnam. General Marcel Bigeard, one of France’s most decorated soldiers, died last month, and this was his wish. However Vietnamese government has turned down a request to scatter the ashes at the site of a battle which helped end colonial rule by France.  Saying it would set a precedent…

Any lessons I wonder – in cases like this where is would case no harm is it better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Or perhaps one should consider what the reaction will be before making such a wish…

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scattering ashes international

Scattering ashes database! record where you scattered

scattering ashes international

Here is something from the States – a scattering ashes database, they will be offering  free searchable database allows you to record the name, date of death and the location of where the ashes of your loved one where scattered. The good news for us this side of the Pond is that you do not need to have used their service to participate. As they point out – Generations to come will find this a useful tool in genealogy.  We  presume as their name suggests the database will be international too!


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hilary ashes everest

Sir Edmund Hilary

hilary ashes everest

Sir Edmund Hilary, the first westerner to climb mount Everest wanted to have half his ashes strewn on the top of the mountain. However the Buddhist lamas decided that having his cremated remains there might bring bad luck and create a precedent for similar ceremonies. So it was decided that the ashes should be interned at a monastery instead – few things…

Firstly, he recognised the symbolism in it and considered it a good dying wish!
Secondly, that not even he was allowed to spoil the karma at the very top of the mountain.
Lastly, he split his ashes in two (the other part to be scattered in the sea off  New Zealand).

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