Lots of good new books coming on on Buddhism and death, many of which involved Jacqueline Stone and Bryan Cuevas in some capacity. Here is an excerpt of a review on the book Death and the afterlife in Japanese Buddhism, edited by Stone and Mariko Namba Walter (empahses mine):
Japan is so successfully ecumenical, the various religions of Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam happily living side by side, that one is tempted to doubt Japanese belief in any of them.
Adding to this perhaps doubtful impression is the fact that religions here have been assigned various nonreligious tasks. Shinto has authority over most marriages and the comings of age of the resultant children, Christianity seems to have been awarded domain over exotic foreign-style marriages, and Buddhism has been given death.
Whether this last is true or not, the popular impression is that Buddhism takes on the responsibilities of both funeral rites and notions about the afterlife. Quoted is a reply to a question as to a family’s Buddhist sectarian affiliation: “I don’t know. No one in our household has died yet.”
There are reasons why Buddhism is thought responsible for the dead and for the means through which it got that way. One is that when Buddhism was introduced in Japan it already possessed a systematic doctrine, an institutional organization and a fully formed ritual repertoire, unequaled by any other religious tradition in Japan — just the thing to handle something as socially important as funerals.
Another reason is Buddhism’s own compelling teachings about the afterlife and the perceived efficacy of its funeral ties as well as its capacity to absorb religious elements from other beliefs. Shinto kami could be recast as Buddhas and bodhisattvas, all of them displaying the reassurance and comfort that death demands.
One yet further reason for Buddhism’s identification with the dying and the dead is that it had already provided itself with a class of religious specialists perceived as capable of managing the dangers and defilements of death, and of mediating between this world the next. The Buddhist priest thus came fully equipped.