Death and funerals follow a very strict process in Japan. There are certain protocols that the Japanese follow as part of funeral procedures and, while flowers feature in the funeral itself, sympathy flowers are not the norm in Japanese culture. While you may feel the need to express your condolences to the survivors of a deceased Japanese person, sympathy flowers are not the appropriate way to do so.
Flowers Associated with Death in Japan
While sympathy flowers are not a feature of Japanese culture, there are certain flowers that are associated with death and funerals. Yellow chrysanthemums are associated with death in Chinese, Korean and Japanese culture. Lilies are also associated with funerals. Flowers are placed on the casket or at the graveside by family.
There are strictly defined alternatives to sending flowers in Japanese culture. Much of Japanese culture is based on tradition and funerals are no exception. While sending flowers may not offend the family of the deceased, there are more suitable options that you can send or present in their place. These other gifts are "koden," "hanawa" and telegrams.
At every Japanese funeral ceremony, monetary gifts are given to the family of the deceased. These gifts are called "koden." These payments are designed to help alleviate the cost of the funeral and the amount expected is dictated by custom. For those who do not know the deceased well, the amount is 2,000 yen; for friends, it is 5,000. Relatives pay 10,000 yen; those who may inherit pay 30,000 yen; and the siblings of the deceased pay 50,000 yen. The money is placed in an envelope and the notes inside must be crisp and new. Payment is given on entrance to the funeral hall and a note of who paid what amount is noted in a ledger.
Another way to express your condolences is to send "hanawa" to the funeral. Hanawa are large funeral wreaths that are often presented at the funeral and are sent from friends, family and business associates. The sender's name is written on the hanawa and is taken to the crematorium to be burned with the body. You can check to see if the family are accepting hanawa by contacting the family or anyone who is involved in making the funeral arrangements.
Telegrams are a regular feature at Japanese funeral ceremonies. While there are places in Japan that specialize in these types of telegrams, if you are sending one from abroad, a few simple sentences will do fine. The telegrams are often read out during the ceremony. If you are attending the ceremony, do not send a telegram. If you cannot send a telegram, a personalized note will also be appreciated.