Aug 29, 2016

    40-second wait in Japan columbarium


    COLUMBARIA in Japanese cities designed to store thousands of cinerary boxes in tight spaces and transport them on request to visitor booths on conveyor belts are becoming more common in the country, with the 20th opened last month, Japanese media reported.

    Urns in Chinese columbaria are housed in observable niches for visitors to pray to at any time. But the boxes in the four-storey building - called Saishoden in Nagoya, about 350km west of Tokyo - would be stored on racks 7m high and 25m deep, reported the Chunichi Shimbun.

    The space-saving design is significant in land-scarce Nagoya, said the newspaper.

    A burial site with a tombstone would typically cost around two million yen (S$26,700) in the area.

    At Saishoden, the first 600 storage spaces, each of which can contain the remains of up to eight people, now cost a discounted 700,000 yen.

    Shorakuji Temple, which runs the columbarium, decided to build the facility in view of the rising number of deaths in urban areas as the Japanese leave the countryside.

    "It's becoming more difficult for city dwellers to find space to hold memorial services for their ancestors so I hope the latest technology could provide an alternative," said chief priest Taijun Sato.

    A visitor places a smart card on a reader at a reception desk and the system will transfer the box to a prayer booth. The box should appear in 40 seconds.

    The system was developed by Toyota Industries and has been in use in many columbaria since 2009, such as the one in Unryuin temple in Kyoto.

    The storage charge at Unryuin is 893,000 yen, covering management fee, biannual prayer service and supply of flowers and incense, reported the Let's Japan website.

    Many of Japan's 75,000 Buddhist temples have gone into non-religious services, such as opening cafes, as the eroded appeal of Buddhism has led to falling contributions from society.

    Some temples see automated columbaria as a more relevant money spinner after a private corporation opened the first in Yokohama in 2009.

    But the business might be tougher in future after a court ruled in May that a columbarium built on a piece of prime land in Tokyo three years ago is not entitled to exemption from property tax.

    In Japan, columbaria run by religious organisations are generally spared the tax.

    The judgment is based on the observation that the columbarium is not strictly a religious site as it is not devoted to spreading any doctrine, reported Asahi Shimbun.

    The verdict would affect many columbaria in Japan, which numbered 8,000 by 2013, said the newspaper. AGENCIES