“Shukatsu” in Japan
He climbed into the coffin.
It didn’t seem to have enough space for the body of a grown man. He adjusted himself for quite a while before he could lie there comfortably. From that moment on, time has slowed down. It was as if he could foresee his death.
“It wasn’t that terrifying after all” he said
If death is not terrifying, what’s so terrifying about dreaming?
“Shukatsu” Fever in Japan
In the film Love Education, Da was lying in his grandmother’s coffin and started to picture death in his mind. The ice-cold and deathly silence made him realize that he had to walk out. He couldn’t just grow old like that without even trying.
It’s not only happening in films. In the corner of a famous hypermarket in Japan, they have a similar setup for “coffin experiences” – an area of the size of a few tatami with a consultation area, a photo area, a coffin experience area, and an altar area.
This is “Shukatsu”, a prevailing trend in Japan in recent years.
“Shukatsu”, in Japanese, means “activities preparing for the end of life” (“人生の終わりのための活動” in Japanese). In around 2010, it was constantly regarded as a buzzword. During the past few years, Shukatsu-related commercial activities have become popular like never before.
Japan has almost entered a “centenarian era”. Various industries have taken this opportunity to introduce “shukatsu plans”; for example, travel agencies are offering day trips to visit cemeteries in the morning and enjoy hot springs in the afternoon. “Death” was once a taboo. Nowadays, it is added an element of Zen’s stillness.
“Shukatsu” activities were first offered by funeral service businesses and medical care companies. Now they have hypermarkets, tourism companies and Shukatsu consultants offering such activities as well. At the end of year 2017, a group of students from the University of Tokyo even set up an online Shukatsu platform through crowdfunding. People in the Shukatsu industry constantly come up with new services. Apparently, tangible possessions left by the deceased are not enough. In our modern information and communication society, Shukatsu services also include taking care of digital legacies. For example, photos on Facebook, Instagram and mobile phones, as well as Internet banking, can all be taken care of by people of the Shukatsu industry.
Other than its expansion into different industries, Shukatsu’s form has developed as well. At the beginning, it was simply a preparation for the end. Now, it emphasizes the care of people’s inner world. In other words, it offers people a chance to find themselves again by meditating upon the end of life.
Once we’ve thought about the meaning of death, we become all the more certain that we must live a valuable life by our own standards.
Death is now with more emphasis on “individual’s will”
Shukatsu is still an increasingly popular trend in Japan. According to lots of experts, the main reason is that it has come to an era of “individualized death” – due to the changes in family structures and acceleration of the population aging process, a larger number of Japanese people will face the problem of dying alone in the future. Coupled with Japanese people’s unique character of being “unwilling to trouble the others”, all these highlight the social needs of “one individual”.
In fact, death is something one must face by himself after all. Because of this, whether it’s the way a funeral is arranged, or the drafting of a will, or even how to spend life in old age, everything now emphasizes an individual’s free will. Even people’s philosophy of life has changed. They no longer perceive death as a passive thing. They now see it with a healthy and positive attitude. From funeral arrangements to old age planning, they take control of their own lives and are always finding new ways of living.
When I asked several Japanese elders that I know what they thought about Shukatsu, all of them said that they didn’t want to trouble their children. They believed they were havens for their children. But it didn’t mean children would always be there with them when there was wind and rain. Though obedient to them, the younger generations still had their own lives to pursue.
One of the elders laughed and said, “my children have their own lives. I’ve got to find a way to cheer myself up and take good care of myself.” Unlike in the past when parents focused everything on their children, maintaining family relationship now is not a burden at all. Family members still have their own independent space. Nowadays, lots of Japanese elders are actively involved with the society by various means. They are trying to establish alternative emotional bonds. Although physically getting old, their lives are booming with vitality.
As the saying goes, “how can we know life without knowing death?” Perhaps we can rewrite it this way – foresee your death and face your life calmly so that you will learn how to live.
We may only come to realize something important the moment we picture death with our imagination. No matter where Shukatsu business will go, it is in essence an opportunity to re-examine and rethink our life.
The purpose of “Shukatsu” is merely to make sure that, when that day comes, we can all say we are worthy of our lives.
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九怪 / Kaogy