More opting for cremation

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More opting for cremation

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Preferred burial methods have changed over the years and now seven in 10 are cremated, more than twice as many compared to a decade ago.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said yesterday that in 2011, the number of people who were cremated was 71.1 percent of 257,396, a 3.6 percent jump compared to the previous year.

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A decade ago, in 2001, the cremation rate was just 38.8 percent. Twenty years ago, in 1991, an even lower 17.8 percent sought cremation.

People here have long held onto the traditional burial method of finding a plot of land to bury the deceased then maintaining the tomb for a lifetime.

The ministry stated that reasons for this jump included the rapidly aging society, the changing of the structure of a traditional family, convenience and lack of burial space. Cities like Seoul lack adequate land for tombs.

Thus, metropolitan areas like Busan had the highest cremation rate at 85.5 percent, followed by Incheon at 84.7 percent, Ulsan at 79.8 percent and Seoul at 78.7 percent. In contrast, South Jeolla and North and South Chungcheong, areas with more available land, had less than 55 percent cremations.

More men preferred to be cremated than women, at 74.4 percent compared to 66.8 percent.

And younger ones are more likely to be cremated, with nine in 10 of those who died under 40 being cremated last year, compared to 62.7 percent of those over 80 years old.

With the spike in people opting for cremation of their beloved ones, there is a shortage of available cremation facilities. There are currently 53 crematoriums nationwide, but four more will be built by next year, said the Health Ministry.

Lee Hyeung-gi, who oversees cremation services at a Seoul municipal government-run crematorium in Goyang, Gyeonggi, said, “Many people these days seek out cremation over traditional burials in order to cut down on expenses of finding a traditional burial site and also maintaining the grave for years afterwards.”

If you’re a resident of the Seoul metropolitan area and use the city-sponsored service the price of cremation for an adult can be as low as 90,000 won ($80).

On average, cremation of an adult costs 1 million won.

The process is as simple as logging in online to register for a cremation appointment, seeing off the dead, waiting for the two-hour cremation process, then receiving the urn.

Lee said these days many choose to scatter the ashes under trees, “and they become one with nature again.”

“I asked my children to cremate me when I die,” said a 71-year-old woman, shaking her head. “I don’t want to burden them, and it will be less of a hassle for them.”

By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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