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Japan: when high technology accompanies funeral rites


The 60-year-old widow is one of a growing number of people in Japan choosing to break away from traditional burial rites and family vaults often located in the countryside, in favor of facilities like the Kuramae-ryoen, a lined indoor tomb of a Buddhist temple.

While Mrs. Isurugi waits in the cabin, behind the wall a stacker crane moves almost silently and selects the zushi, the box containing the urn of the ashes of Go, her husband.

A woman, from behind, meditates in front of her husband's urn in a Buddhist temple.

Masayo Isurugi meditates in the Kuramae-ryoen temple.

Photo: afp via getty images / BEHROUZ MEHRI

Then exquisite wooden sliding doors open, like an elevator in a luxury hotel, revealing a shimmering black stone altar with the requested zushi in the center, while a picture of Go appears on a screen beside it.

At first I thought that this kind of service might lack warmth and that I might prefer a traditional grave in the groundsays Ms. Isurugi.

But now I find it better to have a place where I can go whenever I want to pray, rather than a family vault that I could rarely visit. because it is two hours away by train, she adds.

In Japan, it is customary for the ashes of a deceased person to be placed in a family vault that has been used for several generations. The eldest sons are generally responsible for maintaining the grave and paying for the cemetery annually.

However, the accelerated aging of the Japanese population and the rural exodus have created an imbalance between the number of tombs to be maintained and the number of young people ready to take care of them.

graves”,”text”:”I have a traditional cemetery in this temple, with some 300 graves”}}”>I have a traditional cemetery in this temple, with some 300 gravessaid Tomohiro Hirose, a Buddhist temple monk who also runs Kuramae-ryoen services.

But there are no more relatives to maintain about half of the graves. The family transmission has been lost. And they will be neglected quickly or already are.

Faced with this problem, more modern cemeteries have emerged, offering to preserve the ashes for a given period, up to three decades in general.

The ashes are kept in collective columbariums. But the names of each deceased or deceased – even QR codes – are engraved on personal plaques, and monks continue to pray for the souls of the deceased.

A wooden installation comprising several transparent plates on which are engraved names and qr codes.

The names of the deceased are engraved on personal plaques with a QR code in the Kuramae-ryoen temple.

Photo: afp via getty images / BEHROUZ MEHRI

Behind Kuramae-ryoen’s meditation cabins hides an automated warehouse worthy of an industrial group, capable of storing 7,000 zushi, each of which can contain the ashes of several members of the same family.

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The device was provided by Daifuku, a Japanese company specializing in logistics systems and which considers itself to be the first to have delivered such an automated solution for a Japanese temple, back in the 1990s.

Since, Daifuku has built such systems for about 60 sites funerals in Japan, said Hidenobu Shinnaka, a company official, adding that other countries in Asia would also be interested.

These new type cemeteries have another advantage for families: their cost. Buying a place in one of them costs the equivalent of about 8,850 Canadian dollars, half as much as a conventional grave, according to Kamakura Shinsho, a connection company with cemeteries.

Glass Buddha statuettes set in tiered square displays.

More than 2000 glass statuettes of Buddha adorn the walls of Kokokuji Temple.

Photo: afp via getty images / BEHROUZ MEHRI

At another Tokyo temple, Kokokuji, more than 2,000 glass statuettes of Buddha adorn the walls of an octagonal space. Each of them symbolizes the members of the same family whose ashes are kept on the site, and lights up when a loved one identifies himself digitally.

The entire space can also light up on demand, or produce different subdued colors to help meditation.

Technology doesn’t change the way we pray for the dead, says Taijun Yajima, the monk behind the creation of the space: I wondered how these people could rest in a warm environment, and here is the answer.

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