Funerals. Till recently all funerals were in the hands of the Buddhist hierarchy,—even the funerals of Shintō priests themselves: but now the Shintōists are allowed to bury their own dead. The Shintō coffin resembles that used in Europe. The Buddhist coffin is small and square, and the corpse is fitted into it in a squatting posture with the head bent to the knees,—a custom which some derive from the devout habit of sitting rapt in religious meditation, while others discover in it a symbolical representation, in the last earthly scene, of the position of the unborn child in its mother's womb. Further outward and visible signs whereby to distinguish a Buddhist from a Shintō funeral, are, in the former, the bare shaven heads of the Buddhist priests and the dark blue coats of the coffin-bearers; in the latter, the plain white garb of the coffin-bearers, the Shintō priests shaven heads and curved gauze caps, and the (lags and branches of trees borne in the procession. The use of large bouquets of flowers is common to both, and both religions have funeral services of great length and intricacy.
Vast sums of money are often lavished on funerals, more especially by the Imperial Family. When the Empress Dowager died, in 1897, no less than 700,000 yen were appropriated from the national treasury. Never, perhaps, was funeral pomp more elaborate than on this occasion, which, from first to last, occupied several weeks,—for the actual interment was only the last scene in an extraordinarily complicated set of observances. The procession was two miles in length, the final ceremony lasted over twenty-two hours, during all which time Imperial princes stood or walked almost barefoot in the snow without eating a morsel of food. An ox-wagon, with wheels purposely built so as to creak mournfully, bore the magnificent coffin in which the body lay preserved in vermilion. Three oxen drew it harnessed in single file,—the leader jet-black, the next dun colour with black flecks, the third spotted white and black, with a white star on the forehead and four white stockings, all this in accordance with ancient use. The actual grave-diggers were habited as birds with black wings, because for these, being devoid of reason, there could be no sacrilege in perching upon an Empress's tomb. All sound of music was hushed throughout the land for the space of a month, the schools were closed for a week, and thousands of criminals liberated. The Court itself suspended all festivities for a year. (See also Article on Archæology.)
Books recommended. Japanese Funeral Rites, by A. H. Lay, in Vol. XIX. Part III. of the "Asiatic Transactions."—A Shintō Funeral, by Baroness Sannomiya, in the "Nineteenth Century" for December, 1896.