South Korean 'mock funerals' seek to ease life's stresses

Updated: 2015-12-23 22:05


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South Korean 'mock funerals' seek to ease life's stresses

Wang Yong-yo, left bottom, sits inside a wooden coffin during the “death experience” program at Hyowon Healing Center in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015.[Photo/AP]

SEOUL, South Korea - In a dimly lit room, people dressed in white burial shrouds slowly sit up inside the wooden coffins where they had been lying, enclosed, for 10 minutes. Blinking, pale and solemn, they say they thought about their past and their loved ones while inside the coffins and vow to live better lives now.

"I gained courage to live a new life," Wang Yong-yo, 67, said, sobbing. "I thought about my dead mother ... she was really beautiful when she was young and was very generous."

The mock funerals are part of a "well-dying" trend in South Korea, a sign that the country, once one of the world's poorest after the devastating 1950-53 Korean War, has grown affluent enough to consider quality-of-life issues.

Supporters credit the services with helping participants map out better futures, but critics say they are nothing but money-making businesses.

A handful of companies conduct the mock funerals, and the rivalry is getting ugly. One company is planning to sue Hyowon Healing Center, which staged Tuesday's event and leads the industry, claiming it stole the idea.

Hyowon, run by a regular funeral service company, began giving free mock funerals in late 2012 as part of efforts to promote its image. It has attracted about 15,000 visitors, ranging from middle school students to elderly people who want to know what their deaths will be like and how to prepare for the end of their lives. Since starting the program, the company says it has seen a 30 percent increase in the number of people signing up for its funeral home business.

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