National

Services allow for virtual grave visits

by Asako Takaguchi

Kyodo

For people living far from the graves of their ancestors, paying respects no longer has to involve a long journey, with subscribers to an online service able to conduct virtual cemetery visits from their computer screens.

The service, offered by I-Can Corp., a Tokyo-based funeral company, has roughly 400 users.

On the screen, a gravestone stands in a green field filled with colorful flowers.

At the edge of the screen, users find icons representing a scoop, incense sticks, a flower bouquet, fruit and a glass of beer. They can drag them with a mouse to sprinkle water on the gravestone, offer a bouquet and light an incense stick, all on the screen.

The site includes images of the deceased and describes their hobbies and personality. Visitors can sign the register, exchange comments and share memories of the deceased.

“Certainly, it is best to pay ancestors an actual visit,” I-Can President Tadashi Watanabe said. “Yet, our service is for those who believe that it is possible to pay their respects in front of a computer screen.”

Information technology is also in use at many mortuaries that accommodate urns, such as one at Daitokuin Ryogoku Ryoen, a temple in Sumida Ward, Tokyo.

At the temple, visitors swipe IC cards in a mourning room before a box containing their ancestor’s urn appears automatically and is placed on a granite gravestone. The process takes one minute.

The mortuary, which opened in 2013, uses a system developed by Nichiryoku Co., a Tokyo-based cemetery management company.

“There are many visitors who drop in on the way from shopping and work,” a Nichiryoku official said. “The system is particularly received well by people with children and those in wheelchairs.”

Mortuaries are gaining popularity in urban areas amid a shortage of cemeteries and rising prices of gravestones.

Toru Miyazaki, director of Nichiryoku’s management and planning department, said, “We aimed to create a grave site that responds to the needs of people living in an urban area.”

Miyazaki said the company is looking to introduce the system at other mortuaries in Tokyo.