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