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If your Australian family member or friend has died in Japan, please contact the person's insurance company.
For family and friends, the death of a loved one in any circumstance causes immense feelings of loss and sorrow. Where the death occurs overseas, there can often be additional complications in organising the funeral, repatriation and other arrangements.
The Smartraveller Death Overseas page explains what to expect, and the role of Australian missions overseas when an Australian dies. If you are an Australian in Japan requiring grief counselling, refer to our Mental Health and Counselling Services page.
There is no Japanese law limiting the time in which a body must be interred, but the scarcity and expense of refrigerated storage facilities dictate that the disposition of remains be completed as quickly as possible. Many police stations have no refrigerated storage and hospital facilities are usually very limited. Next of kin of the deceased should promptly appoint a local funeral home. Many police stations and hospitals have a list of local organisations and, in the absence of direction from next of kin, will transfer the body into the care of a local funeral home for appropriate storage. Lack of immediate access to funds to pay for transportation and cold storage could lead to the unilateral disposition of remains as a public health hazard by the local authorities. Final arrangements for disposition would normally need to be made a maximum of one week after death.
Japanese law requires that at least 24 hours pass from the time of death until cremation or embalming may begin. Embalming or cremation may take several days depending on the location of the remains and the schedule of the mortuary company and/or police station.
There are no Japanese laws, national or local, governing the exportation of human remains. A casket containing a body or human ashes is treated as ordinary freight. Shipping companies, however, usually require that the body be placed in a metal lined casket. We recommend that next of kin of the deceased consult with their funeral director to determine the advisability of viewing the remains.
Japanese cremation procedures do not result in the same sized fine ash as it does in Australia, but in somewhat larger-sized pieces of bone. For an additional charge, bone can be processed into fine bone powder.
Autopsy and post mortem examinations are generally conducted only where there is evidence of violent death, there is reason to suspect foul play, or the cause of death is unknown.
There are three types of autopsies:
1) Judicial autopsy (for criminal investigation purpose by court order)
2) Administrative autopsy (no crimes are involved, but the cause of death is unknown)
3) Pathological autopsy or autopsy by consent (at the request of the family)
Invasive autopsies are not common in Japan when someone died of medical or natural cause. Only when death occurred under unusual circumstances, for example, if someone died in a hotel or the police are involved to determine whether there was foul play involved or not. In the event of suicide or accidental death, there is generally no official requirement for an autopsy as part of the police investigation. If next of kin wish to request an autopsy (category three above) or other investigation into the cause of death they should appoint a private legal representative in Japan to make arrangements on their behalf. A funeral home may also be able to assist.
Airhearse International, Inc.
Telephone: +81 3 6459 9509
Maruki Memorial Twenty One Co., Ltd
Telephone: +81 3 5246 5521
Santoku Funeral Parlor Co., Ltd
Telephone: +81 3 3551 2047
Costs for disposition options will vary depending on where the remains must be transported from, the quality of casket, the size and condition of the remains, and other consideration such as religious ceremonies, etc. You should seek quotes directly from a funeral director in Australia and Japan. Costs listed below are estimates that are subject to change:
Embalmment and return of remains to Australia: JPY 1,500,000
Cremation in Japan, return of ashes to Australia: JPY 700,000
Cremation and disposition of ashes in Japan: JPY 3,000,000
No estimates are available for local burial in Japan as this is uncommon due to scarcity of space; cremation in Japan is the norm.
There are no permit requirements for the importation of human ashes into Australia. To ensure Australian quarantine requirements are met, the container used to hold the ashes should be free from contaminants such as soil, and not be made of wood. If you are carrying human ashes when travelling to Australia, you must declare the human ashes to Agriculture Biosecurity on arrival in Australia. It is also advisable to contact the airline or shipping company in advance as these organisations may have additional requirements.