Why Are South Koreans Staging Fake Funerals?

They’re part of the “well-dying movement,” a reaction to South Korea’s high suicide rate.

Image from the Hyowon Healing Center

South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates among industrialized nations: Suicide is the fourth-most-common cause of death in the country. The situation is so dire that it has inspired an effort by mental health professionals called the “well-dying movement,” which resolves to help people appreciate life through a comprehension of death. In a well-dying course, participants stage their own fake funerals, lying down in a wooden coffin dressed in burial clothing, arms crossed on their chests, and contemplate their own mortality.

One doctor who spoke to Vice referred to it as “death meditation.” He said the experience of lying in the coffin while meditating on death allows one’s consciousness to expand, and helps people come to terms with their inevitable passing.

“Their anxiety is gone,” he said. “They let everything go. They want to go underground.”

Some courses lead up to the funerals with lectures on life and death; in one, participants watch a documentary about a woman who is dying of cancer. In another, they write farewell letters to their loved one. Hyowon Healing Center, one of the most popular centers offering these services, reportedly has attracted 15,000 participants since it first opened. The services are so popular that companies are now paying for their employees’ fake funerals, hoping the experience will ease some of their stress.