Closer to the grave: urbanites rebury ancestors

by Michiko Munakata

Kyodo News

News photo
A family from Kashiwa, Chiba Pref., surrounds a new grave near their home, reflecting the growing trend of removing the remains of kin from countryside cemeteries for reburial in urban areas. PHOTO COURTESY OF ZENYUSEKI/KYODO
Rather than make the trek to some far-flung corner of the country to pay their respects to their ancestors, more city dwellers are looking into bringing the remains of their loved ones closer to home.Memorial Art no Onoya, a major funeral and memorial service firm in Tokyo, said it received about 650 inquiries last year -- a sharp jump from several dozen inquiries in other years -- from people interested in transferring the ashes of family members.Some big funeral homes are forecasting a rush to reinter ashes as the first postwar baby boomers start retiring this year at age 60.Onoya held a seminar late last year in Tokyo after a handbook the company put out on the transfer of family burial sites generated considerable interest. The company plans to hold another, larger gathering this month.Zenkoku Yuryo Sekizaiten – , a Tokyo-based national association of 400 gravestone dealers, said the number of inquiries about reburials is soaring.

Some of those interested in reburial note that they have no intention of returning to their countryside birthplaces after living in the city for more than 40 years.

Others comment that they want to take the burden off relatives who have had to care for their family graves. And then there is the expense; some pensioners simply cannot afford the cost of making an overnight trip to a countryside cemetery.

Finally, there are those who say they worry that their children might not visit family graves in unfamiliar places.

Onoya representative Ichiro Ozaki said a potentially huge demand for relocating family graves will “certainly” spark a boom. However, he said, it will take some time for baby boomers to take action because they are currently preoccupied with how to spend their retirement.

Midori Kotani, chief researcher at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute Inc., said many graves across the country are left unattended because of Japan’s aging society. She described those wishing to relocate their family graves as people with a “conscience.”

However, she warned, people carrying out reburials should be prepared for the likelihood that only their immediate offspring will take care of the re-established family graves after they are gone. The norm for Japanese has shifted from holding memorial services for all ancestors to just for kin who were known personally, she said.

“In Japan, care-giving and memorial services (for the dead) were once handled by families at home. Such family functions have become rare in both the city and the country as the baby boomer generation left for urban areas and established their own nuclear families,” said Haruyo Inoue, an assistant professor at the Faculty of Human Life Design at Toyo University.

She said nursing care has shifted from being a family matter to a social matter with the introduction of nursing-care insurance, and rites for the deceased are likely to follow the same course.