Why do Japanese People Put a White Cloth on the Dead Person’s Face?
This is a Japanese custom, and the white cloth is officially called “Kao kake” (顔かけ, かおかけ), “Uchi Ooi” (打ち覆い, うちおおい) or “Menpu” (面布, めんぷ). There are several reasons for this custom:
- To make it easier to notice when that person is resurrected. The law concerning cemeteries and burials stipulates that “in principle the body shall not be cremated within 24 hours after death.” In other words, we consider that there is a possibility that one who was deemed to have passed away may be in a temporary state of apparent death. Even though it was very very rare, I have heard such rumors.
- To keep the dignity of the deceased by hiding their face. While a person is a gentle death face, a person may be a tragic death face. Also, a person’s face color changes, or eyes and mouths open up. We will cover it with cloth so as not to expose such face unnecessarily.
- To protect the deceased from the uncleanness of death. The uncleanness of death is thought to enter from the mouth and nose of the deceased. Although Shinto believes that death is unclean, Buddhism does not think so. However, there are not many Japanese who know that such differences in thinking are Shinto and Buddhism.
These images from “Tokyo Magnitude 8.0” are the scene where people were dead by the disaster of earthquake. This sight tells us that they have recently died. Even in the emergency of a catastrophe, I think that trying to keep the dignity of the deceased is one of the Japanese culture that we are proud of.