SEOUL, South Korea – In a dark, dimly-lit room, people dressed in white burial shrouds sit down next to dozens of coffins. They write their wills, climb into the caskets, lie down and a symbolic "angel of death" — a man wearing a traditional Korean hat and black robes — shuts the lid of each casket.
Ten minutes later they emerge, blinking, pale, solemn.
"I felt something mysterious when I entered the coffin," said Kwon Dae-jung, 43. "I thought, 'I'm going to be re-born and die.'" He said he also vowed to "live without regrets, be good to my family, my wife and my kids."
The "death experience" program run by Hyowon Healing Center, part of a funeral company, is meant to help stressed South Koreans appreciate their lives and plan for their deaths. The program, while free, is also meant to bring in business.
A handful of companies hold mock funerals, and the rivalry is getting ugly. One company says it is planning to sue Hyowon, which leads the industry with its service, claiming theft of the mock funeral idea.
The trend is part of a growing dissatisfaction among South Koreans, who sometimes call their ultra-competitive country "Hell Joseon," a reference to an ancient Korean dynasty. The country has been a leader in suicides and life dissatisfaction among developed countries.
Teenagers and seniors participated Tuesday, and many said they sought relief from the stress of modern life.
Wang Yong-yo, 67, found the death experience emotionally overwhelming because of past "tough times in my life." The program has helped him "gain courage to live again with renewed hopes," Wang said, his voice quaking with emotion.