Cremation has become a common form of funeral in Korea with a growing number of people choosing the process over traditional burial rites.
Out of the 267,221 Koreans who died last year, 197,717, or 74 percent, were cremated, a fourfold increase from 18.4 percent 20 years ago, according to a report released by the Ministry of Health and Welfare released on Monday.
By gender, the rate of men cremated last year was 77.2 percent while that of women marked 70.1 percent. It was the first time that the cremation rate of both men and women surpassed the 70 percent mark, the ministry said.
By region, Busan had the highest cremation rate across the country with 87.8 percent, followed by Incheon and Ulsan with 85.8 percent and 81.8 percent, respectively. The cremation rate was relatively low in regions including South Chungcheong Province and Jeju with 55.9 percent and 57.4 percent, respectively. Among smaller cities, Sacheon in South Gyeongsang Province topped the list with 92.6 percent, followed by Tongyoung, South Gyeongsang Province and Ulleung, North Gyeongsang Province with 91.9 percent and 91.4 percent, respectively.
The nation’s cremation rate has risen since the late 1990s due to a gradual change in attitudes from traditional funeral customs. According to traditional Korean beliefs, ancestors should be given due respect through a burial and regular gravesite visits.
Cremation was seen as an alternative to burials as many people found it difficult to find a suitable location. The related facilities have become modernized, so that people find it more convenient to visit their loved ones laid to rest in sanctuaries after being cremated, officials at the ministry said. Cremation overtook burial in 2005 in terms of popularity.
The ministry said the government would build more crematoriums as it expects a steady increase in the cremation rate in the future.
“The cremation rate has been increasing about 3 percentage points per year since 2005. The rate is expected to increase even more due to structural change in the nation’s demography (associated with) the low birth rate, aging and smaller families,” an official at the ministry said.
As of July, the country had 55 crematoriums across the country, with three more currently under construction. The government has allocated 30.9 billion won to construct more crematoriums this year.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org