Feature

Turning the dead into beads: South Korea's 'odd' new trend

Forget "creepy" burial urns. One company allows clients to memorialize the dead by turning their remains into colorful, caviar-like stones

Ashes to ashes, dust to… beads? South Koreans are shying away from traditional burial traditions and instead opting for a new way to honor the dead—by transforming their remains into smooth, gem-like stones. The practice is becoming increasingly popular; Bae Jae-yul, founder and CEO of "death bead" company Bonhyang, says he's served over 1,000 customers in the past decade, and a rival company, Mikwang, claims to have done even more business. Here's what's going on with this "odd" new practice:

Beads?
Yup. Instead of storing a cremated relative's ashes in a "creepy" urn, South Koreans are opting to transform the remains of loved ones into shiny beads that "have the look of beluga caviar," says Jung-yoon Choi in the Los Angeles Times. But the beads aren't strung into necklaces. "Instead, some mourners keep them in dishes and glass containers, the point being to keep a lost loved one close by." The beads can be produced in different colors — including blue-green, pink, and black — and the process costs around $900.

Why is this practice gaining popularity? 
It's simple: The "small, densely populated country" is running out of space to bury its dead. "A law passed in 2000 requires anyone burying their dead after 2000 to remove the grave 60 years after burial," says Hyung-jin Kim for the Associated Press, resulting in a "dramatic" cultural shift. Just 10 years ago, roughly six out of 10 South Koreans were buried, "a practice in line with the traditional Confucian instruction to respect dead ancestors and visit their graves regularly." Now? The cremation rate is so high that only three out of every 10 deceased were buried last year. 

Can this be done elsewhere? 
The practice can already be found in the United States, Europe, and Japan, says Weird News Asia, but it hasn't "caught on" like it has in South Korea. The reason for the success of Bae's company, and several rival ashes-to-bead businesses in his country? "They're very beautiful to look at," says Bae, who had the remains of his own parents dug up to mix into stones. "You don't feel that these beads are creepy or scary. In fact, there's a holiness and warmth to them."

Sources: Associated Press, LA Times, Weird News Asia

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