Rapidly aging Japan faces yet another shortage: crematoriums

The Associated Press

Japan’s rapidly aging society is forecast to lead to shortfalls in young people, workers and tax revenues. Add to that another shortage: crematoriums.

The number of people dying annually in Japan rose to 1.1 million in 2007, with nearly all of them cremated, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

However, the Nippon Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropic group, has come up with a unique idea: Build “floating crematoriums,” ships that could incinerate remains at sea, bypassing the “not-in-my-backyard” syndrome and saving on real estate.

Annual deaths are projected to rise to 1.7 million by 2040 — far beyond what Japan’s 4,900 crematoriums can handle.

Japan, however, faces significant barriers to expanding the number of crematoriums: high land costs and cultural taboos against anything related to death — meaning few Japanese would welcome a crematorium going up next door.

Nagoya’s Yagoto Cemetery has been struggling since 1999 to build a second crematorium, but opposition from neighbors has blocked construction of the ¥18 billion, 30-furnace facility.