Cremation is rapidly replacing centuries-old burial customs here as eight out of every 10 people surveyed said they would like to be cremated when dead.
Being less costly and more environment-friendly, more people are expected to opt for cremation in the future, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said Monday.
In a survey of 3,000 adults by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, affiliated with the ministry, 79.3 percent said they would rather be cremated than buried (15.1 percent). They considered cremation hygienic, convenient and requiring low maintenance.
Most of the respondents wanted their urn to be buried in the forest, under trees or flowers. Being kept in a charnel house or having their ashes spread in the mountains or rivers were also favored options.
The survey result shows growing public awareness of cremation: in the 1980s, only 27 percent were favorable toward it and the figure rose to 34 percent in 1994 and 67 percent in 2001.
“As of 2009, the actual cremation rate was 65 percent, but we assume the nation to easily reach 80 percent by 2020,” Park Yong-hyun, ministry official, said. The ministry has been campaigning for cremation for several years because the burial sites are currently overloaded and are no longer available in many parts of the country.
The progress also reflects the growing burden of shouldering bereaved families. The respondents said the current funeral procedures cost too much: they were willing to pay an average of 8.1 million won ($7,250) but the actual expenditure was 16 million won for burial and 12 million won for cremation, according to the Korea Consumer Agency’s report.
The fact that burial requires a high level of maintenance also elevated the cremation boom: Many people visit burial sites twice a year, not enough to keep the tombs neat and tidy, the ministry said.
The authorities are establishing two crematoriums and extending nine others to keep up with demand. Currently, there are a total of 51 crematoriums with 272 furnaces, which falls short of demand: About 700 people die every day and furnaces in Seoul and its satellite areas are incapable of meeting demand, according to insiders. The shortage of furnaces has been blamed as a hindrance to stabilizing cremation here.
“We are arranging online reservations for the cremation and once all the furnaces start operations, we will be fully prepared for 2020 and more,” Park said.
By Bae Ji-sook (firstname.lastname@example.org)