Photo: Twitter/@curry_boz

Supermarket’s funeral ad sparks controversy, debate over 'blasphemy'

By Katy Kelly, SoraNews24

Japanese society occupies an interesting space where it comes to religion. While many people will assert they aren’t religious, there are aspects of spiritualism that touch everyday life, often deriving from a hybrid of Shinto and Buddhist teachings. This is especially obvious when it comes to honoring the dead. It’s not at all uncommon to find a butsudan (Buddhist shrine) in a Japanese home, where ihai, spirit tablets engraved with the names of deceased family members, are kept.

Since Japan has an aging population, more people require funeral services than ever. The cost of these services (the most expensive in the world) mean that fewer people are willing to pay for all the aspects of a traditional funeral, and many are looking for cost-effective options.

Cue retail giant Aeon’s recent ad for their own funeral services. It won the prestigious Mainichi Design Award and emphasizes the convenience and relatively cheap price of their funeral packages by showing an ihai tablet wrapped in clear wrap atop a foam tray, much like how you might see meat packaged.

The ad has drawn some less-than-positive attention since earning its award, though. Twitter user @curry_boz, a self-described Buddhist monk, had some choice words for the Mainichi Design board’s decision.

“What a tragedy that this is the recipient of the Mainichi Advertising Design Award. Doesn’t it make you uncomfortable, or even feel like a blasphemy has occurred? Did neither the designer of the ad, nor the judge of the competition, lack the ability to check themselves and stop before this happened?“

His thread continued:

“Regarding the commercialization of funeral services:

The involvement of a funeral parlor is absolutely essential in both preparing for and managing the particulars of a funeral service, what with the administrative procedures that cover such tasks as cremation as well as the transportation from the hospital’s morgue. I won’t deny that, considering the capitalistic economy we live in, a certain level of competition is necessary in order to ensure a high quality of service. That is not the aspect I’m taking issue with.”

“Each funeral service has its own individual merit, and it is up to the providers themselves to discern that merit.

However, I really cannot condone the service provider’s personal perspective implied by taking an object of spiritual significance and then displaying it on a foam tray, wrapped in plastic. This action makes a decisive statement on the value of someone’s life.”

Plenty of users were eager to agree with him. Indeed, many announcements of the ad winning the award have already been quote-retweeted by users wondering “What is this world coming to?” or “This makes me uncomfortable.” Some replied to @curry_boz’s statements with:

“I’m in the graphic design industry, but my husband works at a temple. This really isn’t it. The designer must think of the ihai tablet as just a mere ‘object’, I suppose. It makes me sad.”

“The meaning is a bit unclear, with how they’ve packaged up something other than food into a food tray. You can’t eat a funeral service. I think that’s why it makes me uncomfortable. The impact is lost on me.”

“Whether from a Buddhist perspective or even just a religious one, I feel it’s so insulting I can hardly find the words.”

However, not everyone was so incensed. Many of the comments suggested he look at the problems in how Buddhist temples are handling funeral services before condemning Aeon’s advertising:

“Our values may be different, but I don’t really see it like “‘If you don’t register your ihai tablet properly, you just see it as a basic object! Blasphemy!’ After all, it’s not like anything is residing in that tablet. (If it had a Dharma name* engraved in it, then yeah, it would be blasphemous.) They’ve just compared Aeon’s funeral services to the side-dishes and groceries Aeon also sells. I think this ad is meant to make you think of funerals, which are considered expensive, as something familiar and close-to-home.”

[*Dharma names are the names granted to the deceased, which are then written onto their ihai tablet.]

“I completely disagree [with the idea that the ad is blasphemous]. When my grandfather died, monks were constantly begging me for more money. Some people only see funerals as an annoyance that drains their funds and ends with them getting ripped off. Honestly, it’s package ads like these ones that I’d like to see more of.”

“Perhaps people feel it’s asinine that we keep paying the same amount of money to temples for funerals that we did centuries ago. I’ve noticed a lot of monks nowadays live in fancy houses, drive flashy cars and eat out at expensive restaurants…”

The greatest divide seems to come from those who feel strongly about the ihai as a spiritual object and those who feel that temples and monks must adapt to the modern economic climate if they want to stay relevant. Making those adjustments is always going to draw ire from those who consider it untraditional, so this particular argument is bound to live on for a long, long time.

Source: Twitter/@curry_boz via Hachima Kiko

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Three main reasons why fewer and fewer Japanese people are having funerals

-- Do-it-yourself funeral kits go on sale in Japan

-- Yahoo! Shopping now offers funeral services in Japan

© SoraNews24

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

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I don't care when I'll be dead. I hope some will be thinking about me from time to time anywhere without need of a wrapped or stone (costly) tablet.

My grandma is still with me all the time and not because of her tombstone.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

I absolutely agree with those who like the AEON ad. I have noticed how the priests here say something is unlucky, against tradition, or blasphemous, when their alternative is something that bring in more money.

Again, religion should help people, not emotionally blackmail and rob them.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

What would Itami Juzo say?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Buddhism is broad minded and all-encompassing. 'Blasphemy' is too strong a word to use in the context of Buddhism.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Funeral services in Japan and all the made up artificial BS that goes with it costs a fortune and it's all down to emotional blackmail tactics by making the surviving family members feeling guilt, peer pressure or cornered...

When I heard this: "The more expensive death names (yes, you need to have a new name after death) will help the deceased spirit in it's journey"... You just know they are milking the deceased family. It's a corrupt "business" that for some reason is 'taboo' to question...

So I understand the "business of death" participants feeling threatened by AEON's offer.

9 ( +9 / -0 )


Buddhism is broad minded and all-encompassing.

You clearly don't know very much about the history of Japanese Buddhism.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Doesn’t it make you uncomfortable, or even feel like a blasphemy has occurred?

I felt uncomfortable in the lead-up to, during and after my FiL's funeral.

It was supposed to be a 'proper' Buddhist ceremony, and every single step was punctuated by ¥¥¥¥¥.

I felt the whole thing was a blasphemy, totally removed from true Buddhist teaching.

I've informed my husband that if I go before him, I do not want any hint of religion - any religion - at my funeral. He can use the money saved to take the family on a holiday to scatter my ashes in a tropical sea.

"The more expensive death names (yes, you need to have a new name after death) will help the deceased spirit in it's journey"... You just know they are milking the deceased family.

It's blatantly milking people when they are at their most vulnerable. I remember my poor MiL frantically looking for more 'services' to pay for (including a 'better' death name) that would help her husband reach Buddhahood.

A total scam.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

"You clearly don't know very much about the history of Japanese Buddhism."

In fact I do know quite a bit about Buddhism in general and Japanese Buddhism in particular. Buddhism as originally taught by the Buddha and as originally intended is broad minded and all encompassing. Narrow interpretations of Buddha's teachings have been made over centuries and some sects have become quite militant, but that was not the Buddha's original intent and decree.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

So when you said "Buddhism is broad minded and all-encompassing", what you actually meant was "Buddhism as originally taught by the Buddha".

Because, as you know if you know anything at all about the history of Japanese Buddhism, in practice it has often been far from it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My valuable comments are stored on five-eyes and chinese servers for an eternity and later reference reading again. That’s sufficient honor. lol

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The commercialization of everything is annoying. I don’t have a reference point for blasphemy in Buddhism. In the US, people try to evaluate what kind of coffin Grandpapa would like to spend eternity in.... the spruce with the satin lining is nice, but the plywood with the styrofoam lining is cheaper. Meanwhile whether Grandpapa has moved on or hasn’t is an interesting discussion., and funeral companies are making good money in any case. That may be a common point with Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Ditto Towingtheline. My wife and I are both areligious, but I told her that if I were to pass away in Japan, do not change my name. 'Tis what it "tis and a name change (Read: ¥¥¥¥¥) t'ain't gonna change nothin'.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The business of death ain’t much better in the West, sadly. When my FiL passed, he was working for a funeral home. The funeral home’s director offered to cover the cost of the funeral, because my FiL has been a valued employee and pillar of the community. Naturally, we accepted the offer. Only to have him try to bilk us out of the cost of the service weeks after the poor man was in the ground. When I’m dead, bury me in a sheet with an acorn up my a*s and enjoy the shade I throw for generations to come.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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