Preparing for the Afterlife in Japan

Source: Reuters, By

Funeral arrangements are normally for those left behind, but the latest trend in Japan — which literally translates to “end of life” preparations — is for the ageing to prepare their own funerals and graves.

With a population expected to shrink by nearly 30 million people over the next 50 years, the market for funerals, graves and anything related to the afterlife is very much alive.

From 2000 to 2013, the number of businesses has quadrupled from around 550 to nearly 2000.

The industry has boomed from 263 billion yen ($2.3 billion) to one that is now worth 598 million yen ($5.2 billion).

A multi-storey vault-style graveyard equipped with modern tombs, Ryogoku Ryoen, pictured above, robotically retrieves the correct tombstone or urn based on which identity card is provided.

One of Japan’s biggest shopping chains, Aeon, is also getting in on the act by offering everything from consultations on how to write a legally acceptable will, to giving people a chance to try out a coffin for size.

Large companies like Aeon though, can only introduce and sub-contract out funerals as the temples are operated by religious organisations which must also carry out the service.

Nevertheless, the seminars do go as far as offering sessions where participants, like Kazuo Furumoto pictured above, can get their photos taken for free for funeral use.

Those looking for a brighter afterlife need look no further than the Ruriden, a cemetery in downtown Tokyo where thousands of tiny Buddhas are illuminated by high-powered color changing LED lights.

Prospective residents are given an electronic card that is touch activated to then specially illuminate their grave stone among the 2,046 Buddha statues inside the building.

With not enough land in downtown Tokyo, cemeteries like the Ruriden may indeed have a very bright future, too.

Junkoh Nagakura (pictured above) who is planning on having his remains placed in the cemetery, said that being interred alongside so many others was actually quite comforting.

“Even if my remains do end up in here, knowing that I am being remembered along with everyone else actually has a sense of peace to it,” Nagakura said.

A worker demonstrates how to use a modern tomb at Ryogoku Ryoen.

A worker demonstrates how to use a modern tomb at Ryogoku Ryoen.