Families look to temples to maintain small graves


Yoshiki Saito, 76, moved his parents’ remains in February from a graveyard in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, to Jokyuji Temple in the western Tokyo suburb of Fuchu, where perpetual services are offered to maintain and care for graves.

But unlike other temples that offer similar perpetual services and bury remains in one large grave with others, Jokyuji Temple offers individual, albeit small, space for each family.

At the temple, small stone pillars engraved with the family name of the deceased are lined up on a shelf in front of the main hall. Each family is given a pillar and small drawer with a Buddha statue carving for the remains.

Visitors offer prayers in front of the stone pillar or a larger Buddha statue nearby.

“It’s located near where my only daughter, who is married, lives so I could pay a visit to the grave when I visit her. She and her family can go and visit as well,” said Saito. “I don’t want to burden her with taking care of it.”

Saito visited the Matsudo grave four times a year. But the sight of withered flowers from his previous visit depressed him.

“But now, someone is always paying a visit and (fresh) flowers (are) offered. It’s like living in an apartment complex after you’ve passed away,” he said.

According to a Tokyo company that finds temples for those who want to purchase graves, 767 people bought graves that offer perpetual services in 2015, a jump from 100 in 2007. Of them, about 20 percent had moved the remains from conventional family-oriented graves.

“Some people ‘move in’ the remains (of their loved ones) here and others simply want to prepare for when their time comes,” said Takahiro Horiuchi, 34, the temple’s chief priest. “We receive inquiries from people who think they can’t build a grave because they don’t have an heir (who would take care of the grave).”

Those who don’t have anyone to take care of a grave can choose to have their remains buried under a tree or have their urns placed inside the temple.

A year after Kiyoshi Hirai, 94, of Nerima Ward, Tokyo, lost his wife, he reburied her remains at a temple near his home that offers similar perpetual services.

“I’d like to continue paying (visits). I would have preferred a tree burial, but in the end I chose a grave with a stone so that it’ll be easier for others to pay a visit,” Hirai said.

His eldest son, Hiroshi, 64, however, prefers a tree burial for himself so that it would not be a burden to the next generation.

Haruyo Inoue, a professor of sociology at Toyo University, said the compartment-type graves that come with perpetual services reflect growing demand by people who still place weight on families, ancestors and tradition but also can’t continue maintaining graves on their own.

“It’s a new type of grave,” she said. “As the number of single-person households (increases), we need to come up with new types of graves that . . . suit each individual.”