Despite charges that can top 10 million yen per grave, thousands of inquiries have come in about 50 graves being put up for sale at Aoyama Cemetery in central Tokyo.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which administers the 130-year-old cemetery in Minami-Aoyama, Minato Ward, resumed accepting applications for graves June 30 for the first time in 43 years.
So far, there have been more than 2,000 inquiries about the 50 graves, of which the most expensive carries a permanent rental fee of 10.34 million yen.
There are about 15,000 graves in the 260,000-sq.-meter cemetery, including those of prominent politicians Toshimichi Okubo and Tsuyoshi Inukai, as well as writer Naoya Shiga.
Although situated in central Tokyo, the cemetery, surrounded by some 1,400 cherry and other trees, is calm and far from the city noise. The newly opened and fashionable Roppongi Hills complex can be seen from the grounds.
An elderly woman visiting a grave said, “This is really a good place, calm and rich in greenery. I’ve heard the rate of competition will be more than 100 times.”
The metropolitan government stopped accepting applications for graves 43 years ago because it planned to turn the cemetery into a public park, by letting the number of family graves run down through natural attrition.
However, less than 10 percent of the graves have become vacant, and the metropolitan government decided to change the plan, believing it would take several hundred years for the entire cemetery to become vacant.
It said it will instead use the money collected so far to pay for a park and rest facilities in the space already available.
The 50 graves offered this time range from 1.6 sq. meters to 3.65 sq. meters, and the per-sq.-meter permanent rental fee is about 2.83 million yen, compared with some 130,000 yen at other cemeteries run by the metropolitan government.
Only people living in the metropolitan area are allowed to apply.
According to officials, the rate of competition for graves at other Tokyo-administered cemeteries is also high, running as high as 86 applicants per grave.
“There have been cases of bankruptcies of private cemeteries run by religious organizations,” an official said. “People rely on public-managed cemeteries because they don’t go bankrupt.”
Mutsumi Yokota, a senior researcher at the Tokyo-based All Japan Cemetery Association, said he was asked several years ago how to obtain a grave at Aoyama Cemetery — at any cost.
“There are many other well-equipped cemeteries, but Aoyama Cemetery is popular because it is a kind of brand,” he said. “Those wishing to have graves there might be rich.”