my first Japanese funeral

I went to a funeral last week. A christian friend lost her elderly father. He’d been fighting cancer for a while, so it was not sudden, but a painful loss nonetheless. What made it more painful was that there were no indications that he was trusting in Jesus.

It was a moment of cultural stress as I heard the sad news at lunch time and the funeral was that evening at 6pm. I didn’t have the right colour suit. I didn’t even have a white shirt with me. I had to find out which envelope was the culturally and spiritually appropriate way to give the customary condolence money. But I was assured that the navy suit I had, although not black, would suffice. I quickly bought a shirt, shined my shoes, wiped the mould off my suit, jumped on my bike and got to the ceremony hall with a few minutes to spare.

an example of a Japanese funeral altar

It was a buddhist funeral with a priest chanting mantras that nobody could understand in an eery low drone and everyone bowing before a picture of the man. There was a small group of christians – we attended to support our friend, but didn’t participate in the bowing or offering incense to the dead man’s spirit. These rituals seemed to show respect for the deceased. After a long time chanting, the priest turned to face the audience and gave a short message. From what I gathered talking to a friend afterwards, the message seemed to be mainly about it being a sad occasion and trying to hold on to happy memories of the man.

I was struck by the hopelessness of it all. My heart went out to our friend as she mourned the loss of her father. I was grieved not just by the curse of death, but also by seeing a room full of people who don’t know the risen Lord Jesus, who have no hope beyond the grave, who like that poor man are on their way to hell. I prayed as I sat watching them offer incense and prayers to this man who had just died, that they might know the One who has died and now lives, the One who has conquered death itself.

Lord, have mercy!

  • Her husband, grandmother and all her children are christians (praise God) – pray that they would know God’s comfort.
  • But her mother,  brother and his family are not christians. Please pray for the whole family to trust in Jesus before it’s too late for them too.
  • Please pray for the many who are blinded by Satan’s lies, that God would give them sight to see the empty folly of buddhism and turn to Jesus in whom the fullness of God dwells.

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