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Japanese grappling with high cost of death

32 Comments

It may soon be possible that along with picking up beer and snacks, you'll be able to drop in your neighborhood FamilyMart and make arrangements for a funeral. J-Cast (Nov 28) reported that the FamilyMart chain, cognizant of the changing needs of Japan's rapidly aging society, is exploring the idea of getting into the funeral business.

Along with the prolonged recession, changing social customs have complicated the situation. Growing numbers of families do not maintain ties with local Buddhist temples. In addition, in recent years services have become more modernized, offering individual touches -- many requested beforehand by the deceased -- such as scattering of ashes at sea, musical performances and parties.

As a result, people are becoming increasingly anxious over having to deal with the complexities of making arrangements, and and one-stop services that can streamline the process may find a ready market.

Negative feedback has also tarnished the reputation of the funeral industry, as many people have experienced, or heard about second hand, stories of slipshod estimates that have enabled funeral operators to pad their charges. Estimates for essentially the same services might vary by as much as 1 million yen, depending on the operator.

J-Cast quotes an unnamed source at FamilyMart as saying, "We're now studying the matter from various angles."

If it decides to go ahead, it won't be the first retail chain to do so. In 2009, J-Cast reports, the Aeon supermarket chain quietly began offering funeral service arrangements. According to one source, the company has received "more than 10,000 inquiries" at stores and via its call centers. As advertising has been minimal, most of the referrals have been via word of mouth.

Aeon's basic plan, including rental of a funeral hall, urn, hearse, floral tribute, etc, is set at six levels from 298,000 to 1.48 million yen. It will also introduce temples with cemetery space.

Aeon reportedly farms out the work to 400 companies it has contracted. Some operators had initially objected to the supermarket chain's entry on grounds that would result in a price war and intensified competition, but emotions have calmed down with the realization that there's enough business for everyone.

Meanwhile Shukan Post (Dec 17) turns to those with an even worse predicament: lacking a budget for the most basic of burials.

The story begins in Sendai, with a 46-year-old homeless man, a former member of the Japan Self Defense Force, who was arrested last month on the charge of abandonment of a corpse. Or rather, corpses. His mother passed away eight years ago and his father two years ago, and he had kept their cremated remains in a car left at a public parking facility.

"What else could I do?" the man was quoted as saying. "I was flat broke."

A proper burial plot, according to a national association of grave markers, averages 1,652,000 yen nationwide. On top of that, temples and cemeteries will charge a fee for "perpetual care" plus annual maintenance. "But in Tokyo, which is short on space, the costs may run over 3 million yen," says a cemetery operator.

But what, asks Shukan Post, becomes of those short of funds? Some are opting for less costly arrangements, such as locker-type ossuaries, or substituting a tree, such as cherry, instead of a grave marker. But even these can run into quite a bit of money. What happens when members of the estimated 20% of the nation's households with zero savings shed this mortal coil?

The minimal charges for public cremation are 10,000 yen in Osaka and 40,000 to 50,000 yen in Tokyo. But the law requires human remains to be interred at a designated area and while scattering of cremated ashes is legally permissible, growing numbers of communities, such as Chichibu in Saitama, have protested against outsiders coming to their district to disperse a loved one's remains.

Not wishing to be a burden on their families, some seniors are willing their bodies to medical schools. But their chance of admittance, ironically, is more difficult than passing the entrance exam. For instance, Gunma University Medical School, which can accommodate 40 cadavers per year, is already said to be booked solid through 2014.

© Japan Today

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32 Comments
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10,000 yen in Osaka and 40,000 to 50,000 yen in Tokyo.

Pretty cheap. I want my ashes to go in the sea where I surf.

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A deteritorating economy, an aging population, the demise of the family farm, the inability to afford death. Sure are a lot of dire signs for Japan lately. I know they are a proud people. Is the SHOUGANAI really that strong here? Will the people not finally get fed up with an ineffective government system? Are things like Tokyo Skytree and hosting the World Cup(for example) really that important when so many other things are wrong? Such short sightedness. Hard times comin in the future. That`s all I can say.

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How come cremated remains are considered "corpses" as in "abandonment of a corpse" ? Not much sanitary hazard right here...

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Foggia.

I would reckon is because many of the ashes are kept at home or similar. Plus, Japanese cremation is different from cremation in the west(where you only get ashes).

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many of the ashes = many of the remains

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Most families have their plots already, but you city-folk are screwed. Then again, who cares when you're dead.

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Strange story. I'd like to pay for my bento, pay for my electric bill, buy some Lotto 6 tikets and make my funeral arrangements. Sheeeesh! Just don't sound right.

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Does this explain why so many families are just leaving their dead oldies in their apaprtments or disappearing them?

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Gunma University Medical School, which can accommodate 40 cadavers per year, is already said to be booked solid through 2014.

Did I miss something here? Have people made plans to die on specific dates all the way upto 2015?

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I want my ashes to be scattered on the stage of my favorite strip club.

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Just burn me up when I go, and throw the ashes somewhere. I don't need a grave or anything. 10,000 yen sounds pretty good.

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Did I miss something here? Have people made plans to die on specific dates all the way upto 2015?

I suppose it means they've already got enough bodies frozen (or in solution, or whatever they use) in storage to last them for the next four years.

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Ok, cost of cremation is not too bad. But it is the service which can be held at any time that kills.

Usually cremation and interment in the family tomb is only attended by the family, unless you hold the service at the place & time of cremation = pricey. Cremation to ashes only I think will be pricier.

Last I read about 40+% of people in Tokyo have no burial place close by or at home. Hence why we been getting ads on TV about places where all remains are "sort off" put together.

Shrines are full and you can only get a plot there if you been a member of the shrine for a few decades, etc.

Been a problem for some time and will keep on growing.

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Damn. Gonna have to think of another way into med school!

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Last I read about 40+% of people in Tokyo have no burial place close by or at home

I'm surprised its only 40%

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Ashes + lost space prob (on purpose) = always successful mission for JAXA.

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Some operators had initially objected to the supermarket chain’s entry on grounds that would result in a price war and intensified competition, but emotions have calmed down with the realization that there’s enough business for everyone.

There is something morbidly disturbing about this statement.

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After watching my mother in law hand several envelops of cash to the temple where they have space when father in law passed & imagining the rest over time for the follow up bits I wasnt around for & the fact they have paid yearly fees for decades I will gladly put 5 ichimans in an envelope with a little note for when my time comes I dont any of my $$$ if there is any left being spend on these parasites

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no need to bother with all that, roll them up in a futon and hide them in a back closet.

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The whole system is a scam. Why do you have to pay huge fees just to acquire a new name when you die? My only answer is T.I.J (This is Japan).

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When u r dead ur dead.

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I can't afford to die. It's way too expensive to die these days.

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Like I said, when I am dead I am dead. If it is not affordadable, than my ashes can be scattered overr the Pacicfic Ocean. Is that a crime over here?

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Some areas you need permissions now to scatter ashes as it has become too popular.

Death is always costly, cost your life and than some.

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How much does all this stuff cost in other countries? I can't really make a judgement on whether Japan is absurdly expensive (it probably is).

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A nice plug for Family Mart and I approve. Its a start to a lot of reform that needs to happen.

But the government needs to ensure that people have more choices. They make everybody do the same thing and then prices go up. Not a surprise. Besides, I don't want to be burned up. I am not a Daruma. But Japan is not the only country with burial laws well out of hand. Most people don't even know the silly requirements until someone dies. I don't want my veins filled with junk to keep me from rotting. I don't want a casket that will last for eons either, buried in a concrete bunker. I want to rot! Conbini access might help alleviate the situation of ignorance that allows the companies and governments to rip the people off.

They also need to get a grip on these charlatan priests. There needs to be caps on the money they can receive per funeral and bouts of meaningless mumbo-jumbo spewing.

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The average price of a non-viewing (after death open coffin time), and non-prayer cremation in the USA is Yen 150000 or $1500 USD. Obviously, someone has a monopoly on death in Japan. It would be nice to know the average income of morticians in Japan.

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Now for the unfortunate news. The USA government takes a big bite out of any inheritance the heirs have. That issue is major in the USA today. Someone with a half million dollars in a protected trust in the USA can expect the heirs to pay $20000 to the state and federal government just to "share the wealth." If there is no trust in the family, it is an astronomical amount. Yankee owner Steinbrenner was lucky. He died this year, and the family saved millions in inheritance taxes.

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Hold a sec.

There is a cultural barrier here.

Cremation in japan as stated in article is between 10.000-50.000Yen(varies from locations). Burial in the Family Haka/Tomb depends on location/Shrine/etc.

The actual Wakare-kai/Funeral ceremony is a totally different affair and this can be VERY pricey depending on how elaborate you want to hold it. Of course there are the gift donations from mourners that will help offset the cost.

When my Wife was cremated, there was no cost to open the coffin so we could place flowers(letter from son), etc.

In Japan embalming is still rare so cremations have to happen very soon after death, short notice is usually only family attends and coffins are not as elaborate as overseas as they are usually not seen by mourners at the ceremony. Nor is there time to go shopping for one.

Actual funeral ceremony is often held weeks after the cremation.

So pricing is hard to compare to overseas funerals/cremations.

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Thanks for the info Zenny and noriyosan.

Like with weddings in Japan, the gift donations will offset the cost of the service quite considerably, so it is pretty pointless trying to compare.

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When I'm dead just throw me in the bin.

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Is it okay to through ashes in the bin? I would prefer the sea option. Is ash scattering in Seto Inland Sea prohibited?

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