More than 80 per cent of South Koreans choose cremation as views on death change

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Since the 1990s, there has been a change in how Koreans view death, with more preferring cremation after death, according to a new report released by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

The cremation rate stood at 20.5 per cent in 1994, but rose to 82.7 per cent last year. As of last year, 86 per cent of Koreans said they would like to be cremated after death.

"Many find it too troublesome to maintain grave sites, which require regularly cutting weeds and grass," said an official from the ministry.

"On top of people becoming more practical, there are environmental concerns as well. We live in a small country and there isn't enough land for burial sites."

The report showed that more Koreans are also interested in eco-friendly ways to bury cremated ashes. Currently, popular options in South Korea include planting cremated remains.

The practice is not unique to Korea. A start-up in Spain came up with a new way to grow trees with the ashes of the deceased in 2013.

The Spanish product called "Bios Urn" is a biodegradable urn designed to grow trees from human ashes.

"I would like to choose to go back to nature after death, in the most genuine way possible," said Jang Ha Yeon, a 27-year-old office worker in Seoul.

"Having a grave site for myself feels like being a burden to mother nature. I hope to be cremated for sure. I'm not sure how I would like my ashes to be treated yet. But the idea of 'Bios Urn' sounds nice."

With an ageing population, Korea faces a significant increase in elderly deaths in the near future.

The number of those aged 65 or older, currently totalling 7.26 million, is expected to increase 1.4 times by 2025 to reach 10.5 million.

As a result, the number of deaths among the elderly - defined as those aged 65 or older - is expected be 370,000 by the year 2025 from 280,000 last year.

In response to the growing preference for cremation, as well as the needs of an aging society, the Welfare Ministry announced that it would increase the number of cremation facilities nationwide, as well as sites for burying cremated ashes.

The ministry aims to see the country's cremation rate reach 90 per cent by the year 2022. It also hopes to see at least 30 per cent of the cremated ashes being buried at eco-friendly sites.