‘Death Beads': South Korea’s New Way to Honor the Deceased

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Ahn Young-joon / AP
Ahn Young-joon / AP

Beads are all the rage in South Korea, but it’s no fashion trend. These beads are made from the remains of dead relatives. As an alternative to traditional burial methods, South Koreans are taking relatives’ ashes and transforming them into shiny blue-green, pink or black beads.

Don’t worry, Granny is not worn as a bracelet. South Koreans typically keep the beads on dishes or inside glass containers. It’s meant as a decorative way to keep the deceased nearby.

Bae Jae-yul, founder and CEO of “death bead” company Bonhyang, told the Associated Press he has made beads for more than 500 people this year. The process costs around $900.

According to the AP, the process is gaining popularity since a 2000 law required anyone burying their dead after 2000 to remove the grave 60 years after burial. South Korea is simply losing burial space. Ten years ago, 6 out of 10 South Koreans were buried traditionally, but cultural changes have increased the cremation rate so only 3 out of 10 deceased were buried last year.

Bae told the Los Angeles Times, “You don’t feel that these beads are creepy or scary. In fact, there’s a holiness and warmth to them.”

Park Tae-ho, chief researcher at the Korea National Council for Cremation Promotion, told the AP that dead bead businesses had been launched in the United States, but the idea not gain the same popularity and was largely unsuccessful. Americans might take longer to come around to the phenomenon.

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