South Korea’s Fake Funerals

By Nolan Moore on Thursday, January 9, 2014
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“Men fear death, as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other.” —Francis Bacon, “Essays”

In A Nutshell

Have you ever wondered what it’s going to be like after you die? Well, if you’re curious, you can visit South Korea and attend a fake funeral. These “well-dying” courses are meant to inspire people to live better lives as well as combat the rising suicide rate. At your fake funeral, you’ll participate in a number of macabre activities that culminates in a fake burial.

The Whole Bushel

Everybody dies, but in South Korea, some people die twice . . . sort of. Fake funerals are all the rage in the Land of the Morning Calm, and—among other bizarre activities—feature healthy people crawling into their own caskets. But despite their ghoulish nature, these bogus burials aren’t actually celebrations of death. Quite the contrary: They’re more like motivational seminars, complete with catchy names like the “Coffin Academy.”

Fake funerals are part of a South Korean movement known as “well-dying.” The idea is to inspire people to live better, fuller lives by confronting them with the reality of death. After attending their own internments, it’s hoped that attendees will get along better with their families, live a life without regrets and even become better workers. Not surprisingly, big businesses are totally down with that. Hoping to motivate their work force, Samsung required 900 of its employees to attend. That’s nothing compared to the Kyobo Insurance Company which ordered every single one of its 4,000 employees to take part in the meetings.

However, there’s a darker, more serious reason behind these fake funerals. South Korea is a rapidly developing country, and its schools and businesses are fiercely competitive. All that pressure to succeed coupled with the self-inflicted deaths of several Korean celebrities has led to a staggering number of suicides. In fact, South Korea has more suicides than any other nation in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Many believe that fake funerals are a way of combating this disturbing trend by showing people what death is really like and how their deaths will affect their loved ones.

And what exactly goes on during one of these fake funerals? While there are several companies, they all provide basically the same experience. First, participants put on yellow hemp robes, which are traditional death garments, and then pose for photos that will be used during services later on. After getting dressed up, the groups participate in a series of rather morbid activities. Often, the soon-to-be-deceased write out their wills and read them in front of the group. Many times, they’ll create their own epitaphs or work on goodbye letters to their families, encouraging their loved ones to live better lives. Eventually, it’s time for the funeral, and the attendees crawl into their own caskets. The lids are nailed on, and the “dead” are plunged into darkness. While they think about their lives, they can hear someone sprinkling dirt on top of their coffins as “mourners” cry in the audience. Ten to 15 agonizing minutes later, the lids are removed, and the dead are “reborn,” hopefully having learned not to take life for granted.

Show Me The Proof

Reuters: Test run for death in Korea with coffin trial
LA Times: South Koreans experience what it’s like to die — and live again