Death and Dying

Information on how to proceed in the event of the death of a family member in Japan. Also information on the repatriation of remains for a burial or cremation...

In the event of a natural death with no suspicious circumstances, the hospital or family doctor prepares a Death Certificate (Shibo Todoke Kisai Jiko Shomeisho). The person reporting the death must fill in a Notification of Death (shibo todoke sho), which must be written in Japanese. Both these documents are required to register the death. Register at the local municipality office in the region where the death occurred or where the person resided.

Registering the Death

A death must be registered within seven days with the relevant municipality. In general the death must be reported by a member of the family, although it is possible for the deceased's landlord or the person living with the deceased to do this. After the death has been registered, a Certificate of Permission for Burial or Cremation (Maiso Kaso Kyokasho) is issued. In many municipalities, only cremation is possible. There is a small charge for the certificate. However, undertakers usually pay the charge and include it in their final bill.

In the event of a death of a foreigner resident in Japan, the Foreign Registration Card must  be presented to the municipality office along with the deceased's passport when registering the death.

Post-mortems

In the event of a death outside hospital or a death where foul play is suspected, organs may be removed and retained for analysis. Japanese authorities do not require authority from next of kin to do this.

Organising a Funeral

The type of service is chosen by the family or whoever is organising the funeral. Local temples should be contacted for a Buddhist ceremony. Mortuaries or funeral directors can also assist in organising a funeral. Information about international funeral directors is often available from embassies.

The cost of funerals in Japan is very high and it is advised to get quotes before going ahead and making arrangements.

Burial and cremation

When they die, most people in Japan are cremated, although burial is an option in some municipalities. Generally, the ashes of Japanese nationals are buried in family graves in Japan. Most ceremonies are Buddhist, although other types of religious ceremonies are possible. Cremation or embalmment may only take place after a minimum of 24 hours after the death (unless special circumstances apply when the waiting period may be longer).

A foreigner who dies in Japan can be cremated in Japan, or sent to another country for burial. The body can be embalmed, but embalmment is not customary in Japan and there are few facilities for this outside Tokyo.

Mortuary facilities usually involve cold storage. There is no law regarding how long a body can be stored, but a daily rate is charged for storage. Authorities and undertakers usually ask for arrangements to be finalised within a week.

  • Billy Hammond provides more details about funeral customs in Japan

Repatriation of a Foreigner

When a foreigner dies in Japan, the death should be reported to the relevant embassy or consulate. The following information is required when reporting a death:

  • The deceased's name
  • The deceased's address
  • The deceased's passport number
  • The date and place of death
  • The cause of death (if known)

Repatriation of a body to the home country requires the help of the relevant local embassy or consulate. Consular officials can assist in organising repatriation, and in obtaining appropriate documentation.

Euthanasia in Japan

There is no official law regarding euthanasia in Japan. To date, however, there have been two local court cases where the court ruled against doctors regarding both active and passive euthanasia.