How To Take Your Own Funeral For A Test Drive In Japan

“When a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral.” —Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

In A Nutshell

Various cultures approach their rituals of death differently. In the US, some Americans use prepaid funeral contracts to ease the financial burden on loved ones, although these contracts may fall short of expectations or result in outright fraud. In the Ukraine, coffin therapy may be used to prepare anxious individuals for the afterlife. But the Japanese take a more lighthearted approach with a Shukatsu festival that lets you take a test run of your death with coffins, clothes, makeup, blankets, and more.

The Whole Bushel

Various cultures approach their rituals of death differently. In the US, most people don’t like to talk about death, let alone prepare for it ahead of time. However, some Americans do use prepaid funeral contracts to ease the financial and emotional burdens on loved ones. If you buy a plan through a funeral home, you can determine what type of casket and funeral service you want in advance. Then you usually have the option to pay in one lump sum or installments.

It sounds easy enough, but the finances can get tricky. The proprietors of the funeral home should not hold the money in their own account. They should either open a trust fund to hold your money, with the payment for your funeral triggered when you die, or buy an insurance policy that names the funeral home as the beneficiary.

These contracts sometimes fall short of expectations or result in outright fraud, so you’ll want to ask questions before signing. You’ll need to know if the funeral home can charge your heirs for additional costs, if your money earns interest (and for whom) before you die, and who gets any unspent money after the funeral. It’s also important to investigate what happens if you want to break the contract or move out of the area. One of the most critical issues is what happens to your money if the funeral home is no longer operating when you die.

If a prepaid contract with a funeral home seems too risky, you can open a Totten trust with a bank or credit union that designates a “pay on death” beneficiary. That beneficiary may be a friend, relative, or even a funeral home. A Totten trust operates like a normal bank account that earns interest. You also have the power to close the account or transfer it at any time. After you die, the funds in the account go to the beneficiary to pay for funeral expenses. Of course, you may want to consult a lawyer or financial adviser before making a decision on either a prepaid funeral contract or Totten trust.

In the Ukraine, coffin therapy may be used to prepare anxious individuals for the afterlife. The live customer actually lies in a coffin to relax or become at peace with the process of death. During your 15-minute session, you can leave the lid open or closed. “After a hard working day, you can come in and just relax—it’s great. You go home in a completely different mood,” said 51-year-old Anna Petrukhina. Reports vary as to whether these sessions are free or of nominal cost.

Article Continued Below

Then there’s Japan. There, planning for death has become such a popular craze that they actually have tours and an annual festival for it. Shukatsu refers to activities to prepare for the end of your life. Like planning for a wedding, the Japanese plan their perfect goodbye. At the annual Shukatsu Festa, dozens of companies associated with funerals and aging exhibit their products and services to thousands of visitors who try before they die. The Japanese test coffins for comfort, model their “last journey after death” burial outfits, and have their death makeup done.

There are similar shukatsu tours planned by travel companies where the pre-dead can have their funeral portraits taken and simulate the experience of scattering their ashes on a cruise. Of course, they’re not dead yet, so the ashes are bags of salt that they throw from a ship into Tokyo Bay. The participants also tour local cemeteries and homes for the elderly as well as normal tourist attractions. These tours are so popular, there are waiting lists.

“I was very impressed,” said Hatsue Toyo-izumi, 71, from Tachikawa, Tokyo. “Though my oldest daughter lives in the United States, the ocean is connected around the world, so I can stay with her all the time.”

Show Me The Proof

Kiplinger: Should You Prepay Your Funeral?
Huffington Post: Coffin Therapy: Ukranian Stepan Piryanyk Helps Customers Rest In Peace With New Treatment
The Straits Times: Take a funeral portrait, scatter fake ashes: death tourism rising draw for Japan’s elderly
Global Post: This weird funeral expo in Japan offers people the chance to ‘try before you die’
The Independent: Japanese prepare for the afterlife by testing out coffins

Looking for our newsletter? Subscribe here!