December 19, 2009

JAPAN: For many, no final resting place

. TOKYO, Japan / The Japan Times / Life in Japan / December 19, 2009 A survey finds 40% of Tokyo residents have no burial plot By Shigemi Kotaka, Kyodo News About 40 percent of Tokyo residents who responded to a metro government questionnaire say they have no burial plot and their hometown is just too far away to consider as a final resting place. In the heart of Tokyo, it costs nearly ¥10 million to purchase a 3-sq.-meter cemetery plot in perpetuity. With the rapid influx of people into cities, the situation surrounding graves has undergone drastic change. While demand for graves has been weakening in less-populated areas of the country, it is growing in urban areas. Side by side: A woman visits her family plot at Nerima Nemunoki Garden in Tokyo in October. Kyodo Photo According to the questionnaire, 30 percent of respondents said they want a family plot, while 22 percent said they want a grave for use by blood relatives only. It also found 41 percent of respondents do not own a burial plot, and 61 percent would like one. The number of respondents was not provided. In Tokyo, 18,000 new graves were needed each year for the 20 years up to 2004, but only 8,000 were available annually. There are indications that there will be a shortage of final resting places for the next 50 years or more. A nationwide association of stone dealers said the average purchase price of a grave in fiscal 2009 hit an all-time low of about ¥1.7 million due to the recession. At the Metropolitan Aoyama Cemetery in a prime location of Tokyo, there were more than 30 times more applications than plots available for 3-sq.-meter-wide graves that can be purchased in perpetuity for prices ranging from ¥9.5 million to ¥9.8 million. In Saitama Prefecture, graves of a similar size are available at about one-tenth the price. However, 76 percent of respondents to the questionnaire said that in selecting a burial plot, they would take into consideration proximity and convenience of access. A Tokyo Metropolitan Government official said the number of small-scale cemeteries of 1,000 to 2,000 sq. meters in size developed on the site of former parking lots or industrial plants will increase in the future. The land can be obtained easily and the business can be put on a stable footing quickly. The welfare ministry said that while these cemeteries are managed chiefly by municipal governments, many have actually been developed by religious organizations. While the ministry believes cemeteries are "necessary facilities," residents living near them are less receptive, requiring closer coordination between developers and local residents. Meanwhile, a survey by the Japan Consumers Association found that in Hokkaido, some people say a grave is not necessary as remains are customarily placed in a charnel house. On the other hand, in Okayama, Shimane and Nagano prefectures, there are many individual graves. Then there are growing numbers of people wishing their ashes to be scattered or who favor group burial. Taking these issues into account, and factoring in the nation's declining birthrate, it looks like getting the grave equation right will be an issue for many years to come. [rc] (C) The Japan Times