A Brief History of Asian Mourning

Posted: 28/02/2018

Mourning in its simplest form is an expression of grief over someone’s death who was close to you. It can also apply to a state of mourning which is observed by members of a community and/or a country over a prominent figure or a head of state.

In more recent history, mourning is perceived as a personal journey in which grief can be expressed in any which way we want it to be. This is the case for most of the west, however, many places in Asia still observe mourning as a formulated process, with rituals and customs. These customs which are carried out continue to evolve over time, but the main behaviours tend to remain constant.

Due to the rise in technology, many people “digitally mourn”. This could be through posting pictures and messages on social media outlets, keeping the deceased’s social medias active or attending a funeral or memorial via Skype or live stream. In the UK funeral prices are hugely on the rise. The digital age has allowed for the funeral business to move online, which in turn has allowed us to offer the product of freezing the current price of a funeral. You should consider taking out a pre-paid funeral plan to save yourself from falling victim to the creeping prices.


In most countries, grief is expressed in a period of mourning through the wearing of black clothes – this what we are used to seeing in Europe, North America and Oceania. However, in Chinese culture the traditional colour indicating a period of mourning is white. White clothes and hats have formerly been associated with death in the east and this tradition lives on.




Back in Imperial China, Confucian (a tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or simply a way of life) mourning obliged people to retire from public affair and social society in the light of a death of a parent, this included the Chinese Emperor.

Traditionally, the period of Chinese mourning lasted for three years, but usually 25-27 lunar months in practice and in their terms.


The term for the Japanese term of mourning dress is “Mofuku”. In today’s world, Mofuku requires people who are observing a period of mourning to dress in either black or primarily dark western-style clothing. Alternatively, it requires a person to wear black, traditional Japanese to be worn at funerals and Buddhist memorial services. Colours which considered highly inappropriate in mourning or at a funeral include reds, yellows and oranges.


Women who are wearing western-style clothing may also war a single strand of pearls as simple decoration. Traditional Japanese-style garments for women consist of a five-crested plain black silk kimono, a black obi and all-black accessories which are to be worn over white undergarments, black sandals and white spilt-toe socks.

Mourning attire for men consists of a plain black, silk, five crested kimono and black and white stripped hakama trousers worn over white undergarments, a black crested haori jacket white a white closure and a black or white zori.

In Japan, it is customary for only the immediate family of the deceased to don mourning attire – very close friends may also do this. Attendees of a funeral who are not close family or friends are required to wear respectful and subdued Western or Japanese style clothing which is formal.


While the historical colour of mourning is white in Thailand, black is now worn as a sign of grieving. Interestingly, widows who have lost a spouse are expected to wear purple to mark their loss.



The customs observed in the Philippines have been heavily influenced by Chinese and Japanese culture, as well as folk catholic belief.

To indicate mourning people may wear black or white. Like in Japan, the wearing of red is extremely frowned upon during a period of mourning. In fact, it is taught that those who wear red during this time can expect to suffer 9-40 of illness or actually die themselves within this time. Furthermore, the consumption of chicken during the funeral and/or the wake is believed to bring death to the relatives of the deceased.

In the Philippines, there is an initial nine-day mourning practice in which public prayers are said by the mourners. During this time, the spirit of the deceased is said to actively roaming.

A Catholic practice is a 40-day period of a dedicated memorial of the dead from their death date. During the 40-days, a mass and a small feast are held in honour of the dead. Once the 40 days have concluded, comes the judgement day. On this day, the family of the deceased will wear black.