Japan Resorts to Mass Graves

Quake left too many dead to cremate
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 23, 2011 2:16 PM CDT
Japan Resorts to Mass Graves
Loca residents place flowers on coffins as they bury victims at a corner of a grave site at Higashimatsushima, March 22, 2011.   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

(Newser) – Thanks to the earthquake, the Japanese have been forced to do a lot of something they usually avoid at all costs: burying their dead. Japan’s Buddhist traditions dictate that bodies should be cremated, and the ashes stored in family tombs; burial is outright illegal in many places. But with the death toll expected to climb to more than 20,000, and kerosene in short supply, there are simply too many bodies to burn, Reuters reports.

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Instead, towns have been forced to resort to digging mass graves. Some bodies will be exhumed and cremated later, but others are unidentified or badly damaged. In one city, school gyms have been turned into makeshift morgues for these bodies, with relatives shuttled between them to find loved ones. In another, a study is being conducted to ensure the graves don’t affect fresh-water tables. “Burials are so rare here that we need to find a place to do this,” one official explained. (Read more Buddhism stories.)

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