In a first for Japan, a funeral home operator in Nagano Prefecture will be offering a drive-thru service allowing the bereaved to give their final farewells without having to get out of their car.
Kankon Sousai Aichi Group, based in Ueda, central Nagano, plans to introduce the service in a new funeral home that will open in the city in December.
Like fast-food drive-thrus, funeral attendees will pull up to a window where they can sign their name on a touch screen panel and hand over customary condolence money. They can also pay their respects to the deceased using an electronic incense-burning device.
Inside the venue, the host of the ceremony and other funeralgoers will be able to monitor the drive-thru visitors.
Masao Ogiwara, who heads the company, told The Japan Times that the new service is primarily aimed at people who may lack or have limited mobility due to old age or a physical disability.
“All in all, it will cut down the time it takes to attend a funeral by around one-fourth or one-fifth,” Ogiwara said.
Since funeral ceremonies often take place at noon or in early afternoon, those who are busy at work can cruise by to bid farewell without worrying about dressing in black or spending too much time.
Funerals are big business in aging Japan, and demand for simpler and more efficient after-life services are growing along with the number of deaths. According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the annual number of deaths in Japan is expected to reach 1.43 million in 2020 and 1.53 million in 2025.
Nagano Prefecture, where the new funeral home will be built, is also seeing its population graying rapidly. The ratio of those over 65, which was 30 percent in 2015, is expected to grow to 32 percent by 2020.
“I’ve been in this business for a while and have seen how burdensome attending funerals can be for old folks in wheelchairs,” said Ogiwara. “The new service will allow those who would otherwise stay home go out and bid farewell to friends and family.”
According to the Yano Research Institute, the size of the funeral business market based on sales figures of operators in 2013 was around ¥1.7 trillion. In a report, the institute said the sector is experiencing growing competition as the number of players increases due to the relative ease of entry and lack of legal regulations.