- Funerals (Shinto). Until the nineteenth century Shinto (i.e. non-Buddhist) burial rites were hardly known; the corpse is supremely polluting and virtually all funerals including those of emperors and shrine priests were carried out according to Buddhist rites. Remains were (and are) normally disposed of by cremation, the ashes lodged with a Buddhist temple or kept in the home. Shinto revivalists of the Tokugawa period developed Shinto funeral rites following the lead of Hirata, Atsutane and in a few fiefs such as Mito or Aizu the daimyo encouraged Shinto-type funerals, adapted from Buddhism. From 1644 onwards there was a movement to have emperors buried rather than cremated. For a brief period from July 1873 to May 1875 cremation was completely banned by the new Meiji government on the mistaken assumption that the practice was unacceptable in the West. The Meiji administration made Shinto burial rites compulsory for shrine priests to underline the new dissociation of Shinto and Buddhism but the emergence of 'civic' or 'non-religious' Shinto from the 1880's deprived shrine priests of their teaching function and the right to officiate at funerals, though priests of minor shrines were allowed to continue performing funerals on an ad hoc basis. Within the newly independent 'Shinto sects' (kyoha shinto) Shinto-type funerals became the norm. Shinto funerals as known today are essentially a nineteenth-century innovation adapted from Buddhist practices; for example where Buddhists hold ceremonies every seventh day until the forty-ninth after death, the Shinto rites involve ceremonies every ten days until the fiftieth. The Shinto coffin is similar in shape to a European one and instead of dark-coated Buddhist bearers and shaven-headed priests the Shinto procession wears white and carries sakaki twigs. Motoori, Norinaga's idea that the dead go to the gloomy land of yomi rather than becoming hotoke (enlightened spirits) has not taken popular root. Today, Shinto funerals remain for most Japanese the rare exception to the rule of 'born Shinto, die Buddhist'. Those who choose a Shinto funeral are likely to be Shinto priests or their descendants, or those connected with families from the Shinto revivalist domains of Mito or Aizu, or people in areas such as southern Kyushu where early Meiji governors imposed Shinto rites universally, or members of Shinto sects. Because of the polluting character of death a Shinto funeral need not involve a priest. The chief mourner drawn from the relatives officiates and there remains a strong body of opinion in Shinto that death is polluting and should not be the province of Shinto. The recent funeral of the Showa emperor involved courtiers dressed like priests rather than 'real' Shinto priests and the rites were not carried out in a shrine.See Tama-ya.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Brian Bocking.