South Korea’s funeral culture is fast changing with four out of five deceased being cremated rather than buried, government data showed Monday.
According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the country’s cremation rate accounted for 79 percent of funerals last year, surging fourfold compared to two decades ago. This is a 2 percentage point rise over last year.
By region, eight metropolitan cities including the capital recorded 85.2 percent on average, 10 percent more than non-metropolitan and rural areas. The port city of Tongyeong in South Gyeongsang Province topped the ranking with 95.2 percent. Seoul reached 85.7 percent.
By age, about 94 percent of those under the age of 60 were cremated, with 99 percent of those in their 20s being cremated. Among those aged 60 or older, 75.4 percent were cremated.
“The limited cemetery space and financial burden of purchasing land for graves contributed to the rise of cremation. Managing the grave also requires a lot of time, which poses challenges to the increasing number of nuclear families,” Lee Sang-jae, president of a funeral worker’s association, told The Korea Herald.
“Compared to metropolitan cities, rural regions have more land space. Many senior residents already secured their grave spots before passing away, which is probably why the cremation rate of the elderly is lower.”
Unlike in the past, there is little resistance to the cremation culture these days, he added.
While cremation was common in ancient Korea, burial culture had been preferred from the Joseon era (1392-1910), which was led by the Confucian philosophy that serving ancestors well would ensure the prosperity of future generations. Cremating their parents was considered unfilial.
In Korea, cremation services cost less than 100,000 won ($86) and the charge for storing the remains varies from 1 to 5 million won, depending on place. The cost for burial, on the other hand, depends on the price of the land, with some priced at 7 million won per 3.3 square meters of land.
As part of the efforts to seek an environmentally friendly funeral culture, the government has promoted cremation by launching the Korea Funeral Culture and Policy Institute in 2013. The body unified the cremation reservation system and provides transparent information about cremation facilities.
“The cremation rate has annually increased by 3 percentage points since it overtook the burial rate at 52.6 percent in 2005. The cremation rate is likely to surpass 80 percent next year,” the ministry official said.
As of late last year, a total of 55 cremation facilities were being operated across the country, officials said.
By Lee Hyun-jeong (email@example.com