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It’s no secret that Japan is facing a population crisis. With fantastic health care, well-balanced diets, and active lifestyles, the country’s population is living longer than ever. Though on paper it may sound like a good thing, the truth of the matter is that as the population gets older and as younger people delay having children, the country is finding itself under a large amount of stress, both economically and socially. This has also led to some rather unconventional solutions in the funeral industry.
As of this year, 26.43% of the country’s population was over 65. In fact the country is aging so much that as of 2006 more people have died from choking on food than traffic accidents – pretty unbelievable stuff.
Of course, one of the darker realities of this long-living, though shrinking nation is the growth of the funeral industry. And given that Japan is a nation built on convenience, the “convenient funeral industry” is a strange but inevitable reality. Earlier this year we met Pepper, the robot Buddhist priest, unveiled at the Tokyo International Funeral & Cemetery Show; Pepper was marketed as the easier, and cheaper, alternative to the current priest shortage.
Now in recent months, the Kankon Sousai Aichi Group, a parlor based in Nagano, has unveiled their new initiative: drive-thru funerals. Beginning in December, friends and relatives of the deceased will be able to send their condolences by driving up to a window and signing their name on a tablet.
As well as leaving a message, visitors will be able to drop off condolence money, which is a custom in Japan, and light a stick of incense via the use of a very futuristic touchpad.
Given that the number of deaths in Japan is expected to reach 1.43 million by 2020, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the Kankon Sousai Aichi Group is marketing this new service as a way to cut down wait time by about one-fourth or one-fifth. Because many office workers in the country are only afforded a window of an hour for lunch and most Japanese funerals happen at noon-time, this express service is the ultimate in multi-tasking.
However, this is not technically the first incarnation of the funeral drive-thru. In 2014, a chapel in Michigan, USA created a drive-up style window after an elderly wheelchair-bound patron was unable to attend her husband’s funeral. There are also a number of funeral homes in California, Arkansas, Chicago, and Memphis that also offer this drive-thru viewing.
It looks like drive-thru funerals and robot priests are just the beginning, however. There’s another company offering a mail-order funeral service where a temple near Tokyo accepts the ashes of the deceased via mail. Also, if it’s too hard to journey across the country, don’t sweat it, as one firm has crafted an app that allows mourners to pay a virtual visit to the gravesite of their loved ones.