Written by Staff Writer
If what you want to do before you die is avoid endless hours of soul-sucking “funeral hacks” and waiting for a coffin that somehow ends up a car-boot sale at the local fire station, there may be an alternative you haven’t heard of.
Last weekend, hundreds of visitors gathered in the otherwise-quiet woodland of Forest Lodge Park and enjoyed a weekend of burials, “backlots” (aka foreplay) and an art-play that forced them to confront their own mortality — literally.
Nature Foto, the Japan Coast Guard’s social media strategy agency, is sponsoring a series of courses that culminate in a mushroom coffin burial. Organizers are hoping that using a simple, yet shocking, method will encourage people to view death differently.
Members of the Japan Coast Guard tell the stories behind their photos. Nature Foto
In a country where mortality rates are high due to a low birthrate, a death at a young age in childhood is much more common than in western cultures such as the United States.
But most citizens (including children) look forward to walking down the aisle at a wedding, not awaiting the casket at their funeral. A funeral essentially equates to preparing to be hit by a bus.
“For many families, after their child died, they had no idea what to do. Sometimes family members will want to go into deep mourning but they can’t because they don’t know what they should do,” Akira Ohsashi, a Japanese anthropologist and natural resources specialist told CNN.
Japan’s territorial waters may be smaller than European islands (more than 100,000 square kilometers), but the use of local botanicals in its funeral preparations can certainly impress.
“In the case of a local funeral, only Japanese and Japanese imports are used — no imported flowers or those from exotic places,” Ohsashi said.
There are many different types of Japanese funeral preparations, according to Ahseni Hideyuki, a Japan Coast Guard social media specialist, and different rituals have evolved. The mushrooms used for the courses were harvested from a local forest and grown to maturity.
“There are various types of traditional rituals that follow the funerals in many rural areas,” Ohsashi said.
“It’s possible that the mushrooms are part of the ritual because they symbolize maturity and the loss of a child.”
Japanese mushroom cake appears on a plate in an image by artist Haruna Ando. Haruna Ando
Four people aged between 48 and 80 participated in the sessions. For their part, they experienced a sense of contentment after becoming “beyond their death,” and were apparently able to think about how to live in the world again.
But Ohsashi stressed that it is “not advisable to actively engage in the mushroom burial but it’s a simple cultural practice to create a spiritual and spiritual atmosphere at the cemetery.”
Even if you don’t choose a mushroom coffin, there are also recommended customs and views which can serve as guidance for yourself as you prepare for your own burial.
This includes having your private funeral performed by your family or close friends, and making sure that your final resting place is clear from other families who may otherwise look for “trash and fragments of an ex-lover’s childhood.”
Some tourists pose for a selfie at a forest covered with mushrooms. Nature Foto
A 2014 study from Kyushu University in Fukuoka noted that, as people grew older, the Japanese preference for “no frills, spontaneous and attractive funerals” moved towards formal funerals in modern times.
These formal funerals, which traditionally feature flying flags, military marches and a succession of sermons, can lead to prolonged grieving and an out of control sense of depression, according to the study.
In Japan, six people die daily, according to the National Institute of Health and Welfare, but this has dropped in recent years. The government predicts that by 2023, around 10 people will die daily.