Ten flimsy wooden coffins were laid on two sturdy rails at a hastily prepared cemetery of mostly mud as Keseunnuma began burying its dead from the tsunami that ripped apart the Japanese coastal city. Desperate municipalities such as Kesennuma have been digging mass graves, unthinkable in a nation where the deceased are almost always cremated and their ashes placed in stone family tombs near Buddhist temples. Local regulations often prohibit burial of bodies.
The number of dead in Kesennuma was 551 as of Saturday, far too many for local crematoriums that can typically manage about 10 bodies a day but are now facing shortages of kerosene. Another 1,448 in the city of about 74,000 are missing from the tsunami two weeks ago that has left more than 27,500 people dead or missing across Japan.
“This disaster has created a tsunami of tears,” said Shuko Kakayama, master of the Jifukuji Buddhist temple, which lost 300 members to the tsunami that also heavily damaged temple grounds.
Kakayama, who presided over the funeral of one temple member and prayed for all souls laid to rest, said there was a time when Japan permitted burials. But the government has for decades sought cremations due to a lack of cemetery space in the densely populated country.