Burning money is an ancient Chinese tradition. Real money isn’t being burned, it is being spent on paper imitations which are burned. What these imitations are called can change depending on who you talk to. Many refer to them as zhĭ or paper but this does not create a difference between the paper that is burned and the paper that is used every day. Popular terms that are more specific include Shāozhǐ meaning “burning paper” and zhǐqián meaning “paper money”. The names for this burnable substance are subject to change but widespread practice is largely the same. When something is burned as an offering, it passes through the threshold between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
The world of the dead, or the yin world is different from the yang world in which we exist. The differences between the worlds seem to be lesser so in the physical attributes of the land of the dead but more so in the nature of the land of the dead. People view the yin world in different ways, this intern changes the nature of the yin world. Many people view it as a realm of nothingness that exists if you believe in it. Another common way people view the world is that it is a form of purgatory in which extistence is indefinite and life is more of the same. Although people have different ideas about the world of the dead, it is commonly thought that daytime in the world of the living is nighttime for those in the world of the dead. It is for this reason the dead communicate to the living in dreams. Many people have dreams of their deceased loved ones. The dead usually express that they need something and that the living need to get it to them. Whether it be money, food, or literally anything, if the living deliver the requested items the dead will leave them alone.
Much more than paper money is burned. Flammable imitations of anything from cars to designer clothing are also burned. The dead do not simply live in a world entirely full of paper the items become what they represent when burned. Fire is believed to have transformative properties and burning the paper money or replicas is viewed as a transformative process rather than the destructive one it appears to be. These goods for the spirit world aren’t just for dead loved ones. People will burn money to gods to not only in exchange for blessings but also to thank gods for the blessing that they have been given. Sometimes a specific paper reconstruction is burned to hint at a specific blessing. This can be done by burning an item with a particular symbol meaning what the person asking needs. Another interpretation of this is that the specified blessings are burned and then redistributed by the gods to people who need them. Money can even be burned as acts of charity for ghosts who have not been receiving offerings. Ghost may not be receiving offerings for many reasons; they may have been the last of their lineage and had no descendants to offer them money or they may have been died unbeknownst to their relatives because they were murdered or simply far away. Having rough circumstances at the time of their death has left them lacking necessities for existence such as food, a home, and/or clothing. People frequently burn these donations to the less fortunate. The burned items for loved one are generally more personal because the partakers know the dead individual. People will burn models of the type of car the deceased liked or an imitation dog of same breed the departed owner had. The sizes of the items burned vary in size as well. Some people will pay for full size car replicas to burn and others will buy ones off the shelves of local stores. The size depends on how concerned the buyer is about size and if they can afford it. The items burned have changed with time but so has how people feel about these burnings.
There is a sharp divide about the place of this tradition in modern living. Many people heavily support this tradition used in religious dealings and the passing of loved ones. These people contribute to the massive industry by combined purchasing billions of yen worth of paper. One man in the 1980s burned two truckloads of money for his dead mother costing 20,000 yen. This is not common but shows the importance of this tradition to partakers. The aftermath of burning the money further “burns” more money. Public workers are expected to clean over 70 tons of trash produced from the festivals that feature burning paper. This the immediate results excluding the environmental pollution further polluting the air in areas of high population. People argue that this tradition needs to go in further preservation of life in the world of the living contradicting the views of those concerned with the world of the dead.