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[Opinion] Woodland Burials

Posted April. 05, 2005 23:39,   


Funerals can be held in two ways—burial and cremation. The funeral service of the late Pope John Paul II, which will occur the day after tomorrow, will be held in the former manner. He will be buried under Saint Peter’s Cathedral. There are two types of post-cremation procedures; one of which is to scatter the remains after cremation while the other is to keep the remains. An increasing number of countries are cremating these days. Governments around the world are taking aggressive measures in giving incentives to cremation in order to reduce environmental degradation. Korea is no exception in this trend.

Recently, woodland burials are also gaining attention as a method of cremation. This woodland funeral, or green funeral, is performed by scattering the remains under trees or burying remains and planting trees on them. From a few years before, the German and Swiss state governments started providing trees for woodland funerals to the public. In Korea, this type of funeral has started attracting the people’s attention ever since the woodland burial of Kim Jang-soo, the former dean of agricultural college at the Korea University. Following professor Kim’s will, his remains were scattered under the 50 year-old oak tree in Yangpyeong-gun in Gyeonggi Province. Instead of mounds or tombstones, a sign that read “Kim Jang-soo Grandpa Tree” hung on the stump.

Some one percent of Korean land is occupied by cemeteries, which is three times the area occupied by factories. Every year, the land size equivalent of Yeouido in Seoul is turned into burial grounds. A late entrepreneur used to say, “When I ride the helicopter to go on a business trip, the whole country seems to be covered by graves.” In this regard, woodland burials appear to be an alternative that provides a meaningful funeral while protecting nature. Names such as “Grandpa Tree” and “Mommy Tree” give us friendliness and warmth.

However, institutional framework is not prepared properly to popularize the woodland burial. This green burial is not included in the law on funerals enacted in 2001. Fortunately, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has said it would overhaul the law after consulting the matter with related agencies, which may boost the use of woodland funerals. After all, humans return to nature. Woodland burials may be the way to live an afterlife with trees and also raising trees in nature. On this Arbor Day, I happen to give some thoughts on life, death, and trees.

Song Young-eon, Editorial writer, youngeon@donga.com