For many, an integral part of the grieving process is visiting the cemetery and grave site of the deceased. The opportunity to visit the final resting place of the loved one demonstrates honor, respect and dignity. In the Shinto faith, which respects the contributions of ancestors, visiting the grave becomes not just remembrance but worship.


Visiting the graves in the Shinto tradition is both a responsibility and an honor for family and friends. Japanese graves and cemeteries are different than those in western cultures. Following the cremation of the body, most of the ashes and bone pieces are placed in an urn and taken to the cemetery. Small portions of the ash of the deceased are put in smaller vials and are given to the closest family members to be kept in family shrines at home.

The Japanese grave is normally a family grave. The grave is adorned with a stone monument, some can be incredibly elaborate in size and adornment. The stone has carved out places set aside for flowers to be displayed, sand areas where incense sticks can be placed and burned, a small basin at the front for water, and a chamber underneath the stone where urns containing the ashes can be stored.

The front of the stone will be etched with the family’s name and the date that the monument was erected. Often the names of all of the family members, dead and living, will be etched on the stone. Living family are listed in with a red dye that can be removed at death.

Graves are well-maintained by the family of the deceased. Fresh flowers are brought weekly to the grave. Often a bowl of sand is placed alongside the grave to hold incense sticks which are lit anytime someone visits the site.

Shinto: Matsuri

Matsuri is a visit to the grave on specific days and anniversaries following the death. Often the matsuri will also involve a memorial service conducted by a Shinto priest. The grave is to be visited by the family on the 3rd, 7th and 49th day following the funeral. A matsuri is also to be held in the 1st, 3rd, 7th, 13th and 33rd year, usually on the anniversary of the death.

The grave site is a place for family and friends to mourn the deceased and to reflect on the cycle of life. Visiting the grave is done with respect and honor through the keeping of the rituals of the faith.