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American Citizen Services

Death of an American Citizen in Japan

Death is a time of crisis for one's family and friends no matter where it takes place. If death occurs overseas the experience can be even more traumatic, especially if the procedures involved are not clearly understood.

To read the annual report of disposition of remains, visit our site "Disposition of Remains Report - Tokyo" for the Tokyo area," Disposition of Remains Report - Osaka" for the Osaka area, "Disposition of Remains Report - Fukuoka" (PDF - 295kb) for the Fukuoka area, "Disposition of Remains Report - Sapporo" (PDF - 69.99kb) for the Sapporo area, and "Disposition of Remains Report - Naha" (PDF - 92.47kb) for the Okinawa area.

The below instructions are for deaths in the Tokyo consular district (Tokyo, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizuoka, Tochigi, Yamagata or Yamanashi prefectures).  If the death occurred outside the Tokyo's consular district, please contact one of our consulates that covers the area where the death occurred.

There are several important things that the next of kin must do in conjunction with the Embassy or the Consulates. We stand ready to assist you with any of these steps at any point.

1.(a) Reporting the Death of an American

Any death of a U.S. citizen should be reported immediately to the police and to the Embassy.  If the death occurred outside the Tokyo's consular district, please contact one of our consulates that covers the area where the death occurred.

Deaths of U.S. military members should be reported to the appropriate branch of service, not to the Embassy.

The American Citizen Services Unit, U.S. Embassy in Tokyo can be reached through the Embassy switchboard 03-3224-5000 (from the U.S., 011-81-3-3224-5000).  After hours, the Embassy duty officer is available through the switchboard.  (please visit our consulates contact information page if the death occurred outside the Tokyo's consular district.)

When reporting a death to us, if possible, please tell us the deceased person's name, date and place of birth, passport number, date and place of death, cause of death, and the location of the remains. We also need the full name and phone number of the next of kin if available.

1.(b) When We Receive a Report of the Death of an American

In cases where we learn of the death of an American in Japan, we will as quickly as possible determine who is the next of kin of the deceased and contact that person by telephone immediately.

In some situations, however, it may not be possible to immediately determine who is the next of kin; for example, if someone passes away in a car accident and no ID is found. In situations such as that, we will work with Japanese authorities, the Department of State's Passport Office and any other resources available to locate and contact the Next of Kin.

(2) Communicating Your Relationship to the Deceased

We seek to carry out the wishes of the next of kin. Generally the next of kin is held to be the spouse, the adult children, the parent(s) or the siblings of the deceased.

You must complete an Affidavit of Surviving Spouse or Next of Kin (PDF - 7kb) form (requires Adobe Acrobat to view; download the free software), have it notarized, and then send it to us by both fax and mail.

Our fax number is (011) 81-3-3224-5856. Our mailing address is American Citizen Services, Consular Section, American Embassy Tokyo, 1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8420, Japan.  Please visit our consulates contact information page if the death occurred outside the Tokyo's consular district.

This affidavit is for our use in learning who the next of kin is so that we may assist with the disposition of remains and provisional disposition of effects. This affidavit does not serve in place of decisions made by a will, Probate and/or litigation in determining the final disposition of the deceased's effects, possessions and/or funds.

3. Decisions to be Made by the Next of Kin

There is no Japanese law providing that remains must be interred within a certain amount of time. However, the scarcity and high expense of refrigerated storage facilities dictate that the disposition of remains be completed as quickly as possible. The following paragraphs explain the options you have for making your decisions.

If the deceased was a retired member of the United States Armed Forces, please let us know so we can put you in touch with the appropriate service's Office of Mortuary Affairs in the United States.

Burial flags are available from the Veteran's Administration for most veterans who were honorably discharged. Contact the VA for details.

Costs for all options will vary depending on from where the remains must be transported and the quality of casket desired. The varying exchange rate of the U.S. Dollar and the Japanese Yen will also affect these costs. Please note that all costs listed here are estimates, and are subject to change.

You have three options regarding the disposition of your loved one's remains. You may have the remains cremated and buried in Japan, you may have the remains cremated and buried in another location, or you may have the remains embalmed and shipped to another location (such as the United States).

  • Cremation in Japan, Disposition in Japan
    The cost for cremation and disposition of ashes in Japan is approximately $29,800. Please note that burial of ashes in the Tokyo area is virtually impossible because of the scarcity of plots.
  • Cremation in Japan, Disposition in the U.S.
    The cost for preparation, cremation and air shipment of ashes to the United States is approximately $7,700.
  • Embalming in Japan, Disposition in the U.S.
    Should you decide to have the remains returned to the U.S. for burial, the costs would be substantially greater due to the high cost of air freight and embalming. The total cost for preparation and air shipment to the U.S. is approximately $23,000. Unfortunately, there is no space available for burial of uncremated remains in the Tokyo area.

Embalming is not customary in Japan, and storage facilities are generally inadequate outside of Tokyo. Provisional burial would usually take place a maximum of a week after death. Funeral homes are unable to begin work until they have payment in hand.

Preparation and air shipment are carried out in accordance with the laws of and facilities available in Japan and in some cases, the services fall short of those expected in the U.S. We recommend that you ask the funeral director of your choice to determine the advisability of viewing the remains.

Your loved one's remains will need to be received in the U.S. by a licensed funeral home. You will need to make arrangements for receipt with the funeral director of your choice.

4. Communicating Your Decision on Disposition of Remains

Once you, the next of kin, have made a decision, you must send us a Letter of Instruction. (PDF - 12kb) To ensure that your wishes are carried out completely, please send your instructions regarding the disposition of your loved one's remains and personal effects by both FAX and mail to the American Embassy Tokyo or our consulate if the death occurred outside the Tokyo's consular district.

Our fax number is (011) 81-3-3224-5856. Our mailing address is Consular Section, American Embassy Tokyo, 1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8420, Japan.  Please visit our consulates contact information page if the death occurred outside the Tokyo's consular district.

Your instructions should give your loved one's full name, telephone numbers where you may be reached and, if shipment of remains is desired, the name, address, and full telephone number and fax number of the U.S funeral home you have selected to handle arrangements.

Use this form to prepare the Letter of Instruction (PDF - 12kb) (requires Adobe Acrobat to view; download the free software).

5. Necessary Japanese Government Documents

In order to prepare remains, two documents must be obtained from the Japanese authorities. In many instances a mortuary service in Japan can obtain, or assist you in obtaining, these papers.

The first and most important document is the Japanese Death Certificate (Shibo Todoke Kisai Jiko Shomeisho). In order to obtain this death certificate, you will need to present both the hospital death record and the deceased's identifying document, such as passport. Notification of the death must be filed with the responsible municipal office within seven days.

The other required document, which can often be applied for at the same time as the Death Certificate, is the "Certificate of Permission for Burial or Cremation" (Maiso Kaso Kyokasho).

6. Mortuary Arrangements in Tokyo

Absent any special circumstances (such as the death having occurred as the result of a crime), Japanese law allows remains to be cremated or embalmed after only a 24 hour waiting period following death.

If the next of kin or another individual who is responsible for making the funeral arrangements is in Japan, a suitable funeral home should be contacted.

While you are free to contact any funeral home you wish, and while we cannot endorse any private business, we are aware of several firms in the Tokyo area that can assist in English and which have provided adequate embalming services in the past:

DISCLAIMER: The U.S. Embassy, Tokyo, Japan, assumes no responsibility or liability for the professional ability or reputation of, or the quality of services provided by, the following persons or firms. Names are listed alphabetically, and the order in which they appear has no other significance. Professional credentials and areas of expertise are provided directly by the funeral directors, morticians and other service providers.

  • Airhearse International Inc.
    305A-1, No. 1 International Cargo Bldg., 2-6-3 Haneda-kuko, Ota-ku, Tokyo 144-0041
    Tel from the U.S.:  011-81-3-6459-9509
    Fax from the U.S.: 011-81-3-6459-9510
    Chief Operating Officer/President: Ms. Rie Kimura
    Operating with a contract embalmer.
    Cremation/shipment can be also arranged.
    Service Areas: throughout Japan
  • Hakuzensha Funeral Home, Inc.
    Embalming Office
    32-1 Shinminato, Mihama-ku, Chiba-shi, Chiba-ken 261-0002
    Tel from the U.S.: 011-81-43-244-7761
    Fax from the U.S.: 011-81-43-244-7792
    Interpreter: Ms. Mitsutake
    Operating with 3 embalmers including a Canadian embalmer. Cremation/shipment can be also arranged.
    Service Areas: Chiba including Narita, part of Tokyo, Ibaraki and Tochigi
  • International Mortuary Systems Inc. (IMS)
    5-17-3 3F Shiba Kawaguchi-shi, Saitama-ken 333-0866
    Tel from the U.S.: 011-81-48-261-3302
    Fax from the U.S.: 011-81-48-262-2120
    Admin: Ms. Megumi Tsukamoto
    Operating with 9 embalmers including Canadian.
    Cremation/shipment can be also arranged.
    Service Areas: Tokyo and its vicinity
  • Maruki Memorial 21 Co., Ltd.
    1-3-10 Shitaya, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0004
    Tel from the U.S.: 011-81-3-5246-5521
    Fax from the U.S.: 011-81-3-5246-5523
    Cell: 011-81-90-1404-4094
    Embalmer: Mr. Yoshio Sato (Licensed in Hawaii)
    Cremation/shipment can be also arranged.
    Service Areas: Tokyo
  • Santoku Funeral Parlor Co., Ltd.
    7-1 Irifune 2-chome, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0042
    Tel from the U.S.: 011-81-3-3551-2047 / 3019
    Fax from the U.S.: 011-81-3-3555-1966
    Director: Mr. Tetsuo Koizumi
    Operating with a contract embalmer.  Cremation/shipment can be also arranged.
    Service Areas: Tokyo

If the death occurred in the Osaka and its vicinity, please visit our site "Disposition of Remains Report - Osaka."   If the death occurred elsewhere in Japan,  please contact one of our consulates that covers the area where the death occurred.

7. Timing

Many factors can affect how much time will be needed to prepare your loved one's remains for return to the United States. Because of these many variables, it is best not to make final plans for ceremonies and the like until we and the funeral home you are working with can provide a firm timetable.

Here are some estimates of the time various steps of the process may take.   We roughly estimate that the entire process may take approximately one week. 

  • Japanese law requires at least 24 hours pass from the time of death until cremation or embalming may begin.
  • The police may withhold permission to cremate or embalm for as long as necessary if they believe the death was as the result of a crime which they need to investigate. This investigation may in some instances require an autopsy, which by itself may require one or more days.
  • Embalming or cremation may take several days depending on the location of the remains and the schedule of the mortuary company.
  • Cremated remains properly prepared may be taken by the next of kin on a commercial flight. Embalmed remains must be transported as cargo, and require processing by the Japanese ground handling company employed by all airlines serving Japan. The arrangements for shipping may take as long as three days.
  • Embalmed remains must be turned over to a licensed mortician at the airport in the U.S. If the mortician in the United States is unable to meet a flight, the shipment must be delayed so that it arrives in the U.S. at a time when your chosen mortician can meet the incoming flight.
  • In some cases, no space may be available on outgoing flights for embalmed remains, introducing delays.
  • The paper work necessary from the Embassy or consulates can typically be issued within one business day once we have the proper documentation from the Japanese authorities.

8. Transmitting Funds

The Embassy cannot authorize any preparation of remains until the proper funds are on deposit. Therefore, it is imperative that the necessary funds and instructions are provided as soon as possible after a death occurs.

  • Direct Bank Wire Transfer to the Mortuary Service
    If costs are to be borne by relatives or friends in the United States, the quickest means of transmission is to make an arrangement directly with the mortuary service to transfer funds electronically. Contact the service you choose directly for details.
  • Telegraphic Transfer
    If that is not possible, you can telegraphically send funds to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services (OCS), Department of State, Washington, D.C. for forwarding to the Embassy in Tokyo or consulates, and later to the mortuary service in Japan.   Any unused funds will be returned after all bills have been paid.

To send funds via the Department of State, please call 1-888-407-4747 during the hours 8AM to 8PM weekdays. Funds sent during non-business hours may not be processed until the next business day. Also visit the State Department's travel site, "Sending Money to U.S. Citizens Overseas"

WESTERN UNION: Be aware that some U.S. states place restrictions on the use of Quick Collect by phone or the Internet.  Western Union can inform you which states have such restrictions.  NOTE:  Western Union will charge you a money transfer fee based on the dollar amount you are sending.  Ask about the fee structure.  This fee is separate from the $30 processing fee that Department of State charges to set up an account and transfer funds.  Western Union has a limit on the amount of money you can transmit by credit card within a seven-day period.  You may need to use a second credit card to send money exceeding the initial limit within a particular seven-day period. 

 

9. The Report of Death

The Embassy prepares a Report of Death of an American Citizen Abroad for every civilian American who dies in Japan. This certificate is based on the Japanese death certificate and is valid for use in the United States. In addition, a consular mortuary certificate is prepared if the remains are to be shipped to the United States. Unless the legal next of kin is in Japan or another person is chosen as provisional custodian, the Embassy acts on behalf of the executor as the provisional custodian of the estate of any civilian American.

As the Report of Death can only be issued after Japanese authorities complete their documentation of the death, we anticipate an interval of about a day or two after the Japanese authorities complete their work before the Report of Death can be issued. Certified copies will be sent to the Next of Kin and the original will be sent to the Department of State for permanent filing.

Some U.S. insurance companies, other agencies, and courts in the U.S. request information on our legal authority to issue such reports. That authority is contained in 22 U.S. Code 4196; 22 Code of Federal Regulations 72.1.

Twenty copies of the Report of Death of an American Citizen Abroad, issued at the time of death, will be provided to the Next of Kin free of charge. If in the future you need additional copies, they can be obtained for a fee of 50 dollars per copy. Please send a signed and notarized written request including all pertinent facts of the occasion along with a copy of the requester's valid photo identification to the following office. For more details on how to make a request, please visit the State Department's travel site.

U.S. Department of State
Passport Vital Records Section
1150 Passport Services PL 6th Floor
Dulles, VA 20189-1150

 

10. Grief Counseling

The death of a loved one is a terrible blow. Many times, family and friends find it helpful to speak with someone about their feelings, and to gain advice on how to deal emotionally with the death. For those in Japan, fee-based counseling in English is available.

Please visit our "Sources of Help" page for a list of counseling services. 

11. Transporting the Deceased to the U.S.

Visit the TSA website for information on traveling with crematory remains. 

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