Interest in final resting places never dies

April 4th, 2013 by Felicity Hughes

Can't afford prime real estate in Aoyama Cemetery? Have we go a deal for you.

Can’t afford prime real estate in Aoyama Cemetery? Have we got a deal for you.

With graveyards often located on the outskirts of cities, visiting the family grave to perform memorial services can be somewhat of a mission for busy families. But new businesses have now eased the burden for many with new “graveyards” built within office blocks conveniently located in cities. Nowadays these crypts can even be visited virtually by those who are physically unable or too busy to make the trip.

Syunkei-ji high-tech crypt offers virtual memorial services for busy relatives

Syunkei-ji high-tech crypt offers virtual memorial services for busy relatives

The high-tech graveyard business is growing, according to a recent article in the Yomiuri. Scheduled to open its doors in 2014, a six-story crypt just five minutes’ walk from Shinjuku Station will offer 7,000 spaces to store the ashes of loved ones. Built on prime real estate, the project indicates that it is potentially more profitable to rent out space in a building for “burial” slots rather than for offices or apartments. A similar crypt opened in 2009 in Machiya in Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward has now filled 70 per cent of its 3,400 capacity.

Two kinds of new-school cemeteries are now crowding the final resting place market. The first is the simple “coin locker” variety where remains are stored in a slender box that family members can visit. The second is more high tech. Activated with an electronic key card, a robotic arm retrieves the funereal urn of a loved one from a storage shelf and places it in a special booth. Relatives can perform memorial services in peace as photos of loved ones are displayed on the screen above them.

Burial slots in these buildings go for far less than a plot in a traditional cemetery and have the added convenience that family members can get to them easily and even fit in a spot of shopping or some lunch afterward. Those too busy to get there can take advantage of virtual memorial services offered by organizations like Syunkei-ji. When you log in to make your visit, a priest chants sutras as you pray for your relative from the comfort of your own home.

In a final resting place side-note, visiting old school graveyards has become a popular pastime for some Japanese, as has the  hobby of visiting the graves of celebrities. Enthusiasts trade info on the web , take guided tours offered by volunteers and consult books such as “Tour the Graves of Celebrities all over Japan.”

A team of volunteer guides at Zoshigaya Cemetery in Toshima Ward, Tokyo, show visitors the graves of famous people such as writers Natsume Soseki and Kafu Nagai. According to Asahi Shimbun, visitors come from as far away as Shizuoka. They’re not only interested in seeing the graves, but are also drawn to the peaceful environment of these old-fashioned graveyards.

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