Jeff Chancellor, CFSP, is Director of Education, Training and Research for Eckels, a provider of funeral service products worldwide. Over the course of his long career in funeral service, Jeff has experienced cremation in more than a dozen countries on three continents. He’s especially knowledgeable about funeral traditions in Asia.
In this short video recorded at the annual convention of the Cremation Association of North America, Chancellor describes the differences between the process, the rituals and the family participation in cremation in the United States compared to Asian countries, specifically Japan and Taiwan.
In the United States, much of cremation takes place “back of the house, so to speak,” Chancellor says. The public doesn’t interact much with the process of cremation, which usually takes place in an industrial setting, the family has little or no contact with the body or the cremated remains, and the remains are pulverized to fit into a container that will fit into a box or niche.
Other cultures revere the bones that remain after cremation and believe they hold spirit. In Japan, families are involved with the cremation process, which takes place “in the front of the house.” The family may load the body into the cremation chamber, and press the button that starts the cremation process. After the cremation chamber and remains have cooled, the family will use chopsticks to pick up the bones one at a time and place them into an urn, without any processing.
“It is a significant reality check for that family, and a lot of participation,” said Chancellor.
He also described the different design of urns for Asian remains and the special approach taken by families in Taiwan.
Chancellor concludes, “I would suggest any family who’s looking for cremation, and any practitioner who’s looking at adding cremation to their business, to broaden the concept of cremation. Bring it to the front of the house, and involve family participation, so that there’s really no mystery about the process, and there is an opportunity for confronting the reality of the death and participating in a ritual that has some meaning.”