Dalai Lama mourns Japan's tsunami dead

The Dalai Lama joined Japanese Buddhists at a memorial service for the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that killed about 14,500 and has devastated the country.

The Dalai Lama joined Japanese Buddhists on Thursday at a memorial service for the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country.

Many Japanese share Buddhist beliefs with the native Japanese religion of Shinto, which worships spirits in nature and places of similar importance to filial piety as does Buddhism.

Virtually all rites related to death in Japan are Buddhist-based.

In many Japanese schools of Buddhist thought, the dead wander near their homes for 49 days before heading into their next stage of existence on the 50th day. The spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists altered his schedule to be in Japan for Friday, the 49th day since the twin disasters.

About 1,200 mourners filled a hall in the northeastern town of Soma, with many standing outside a gate, for a ceremony organized by 170 priests.

Local temples invited anyone to attend the ceremony and told the bereaved not to worry about dressing in black, since many people had lost their formal clothes. Instead of the usual gifts passed out after funerals, the bereaved were given bags with bottles of water, tea and soap

"It's very difficult because we couldn't have a proper funeral. But this gives us some feeling of closure," Kiyoshi Sakurai said, clutching a blurry photo of his brother. "It was comforting to have so many priests come to pray for our relatives."

The disaster is believed to have killed nearly 26,000 people, though only about 14,500 bodies have been found.

Much of the country remains buried in mountains of debris.