A ‘moving’ experience: Japan’s drive-through funerals

August 15, 2018

Few memorial services are as “moving” as the one now being offered by a Japanese funeral parlor. Mourners can pay their final respects without ever leaving their cars, according to a report by the Daily Telegraph of Australia.

The undertaker’s “drive-through” service is a first in Japan, where a rapidly aging population means that funerals are anything but a dying trade.

In fact, according to Bloomberg, Japan’s population of 127 million is forecast to shrink by about 33% within the next five decades. The proportion of over-64-year-olds —currently about 25%—is expected to reach 38% within that time frame.

Mourners simply check in by rolling down the car window and using a touchscreen tablet device. They then are asked to make a traditional offering of incense—all while their images are videotaped and viewed by the grieving family inside the venue.

The initiative aims to speed up funeral services and also to give infirm relatives the chance to participate, Masao Ogiwara president of Kankon Sosai Aichi Group,  told the Australian news outlet. “Older people may hesitate to attend a funeral because they have to ask for help to get out of the car,” Ogiwara said, “but we want as many people as possible to be able to come to say farewell to their friends or neighbors.”

The drive-through funerals represent the latest in a series of Japanese innovations attempting to win a slice of the competitive US$11.5 billion national funeral business.

One trend that has sparked controversy, according to the Telegraph, is a so-called “rent-a-monk” system, which offers mourners the opportunity to arrange for a monk to deliver funeral rites at the click of a mouse. Amazon has been advertising packages offered by Minrevi  which sends out monks to perform Buddhist memorial services and other ceremonies. However, the Japan Buddhist Federation (JBF) objects strenuously to the idea —saying that hiring out monks over the Internet commercializes a religious act.

And finally, for those who would like to lament in private—or cannot afford to pay expensive funeral fees— a temple near Tokyo accepts the ashes of the deceased via mail and places it in its burial facility. There’s even an app that has been developed so that the family can view the burial site by smartphone.

Research contact: @dailytelegraph

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