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Funeral operators in Japan have recently been offering online services for bereaved families to mourn their loved ones remotely, amid government calls to reduce person-to-person contact to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Nishida Sougisha, a funeral parlor in Nagoya is using a videoconferencing app to allow mourners to participate in services.

“A funeral is a time to say our final farewell to the deceased,” a company official said. “We want people to utilize our services so as not to become estranged from others (while in quarantine).”

At a funeral for an elderly man held at the parlor in late March, only seven people attended. The initial plan was for around 20 mourners, but relatives residing in Saitama Prefecture and Tokyo could not attend due to measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

In early April, Tokyo, Saitama and five other prefectures were under an initial state of emergency declared by the government due to an alarming rise in infections. The state of emergency was later expanded to cover all of Japan.

According to the funeral parlor, while the number of funerals has remained unchanged, the number of mourners attending has dropped significantly since March.

“People may be wondering whether it’s right to invite relatives at a time when we have been asked to refrain from going out,” said executive director Yuki Nishida, 42.

Online mourners can observe funeral rites, such as Buddhist monks chanting sutras, on their computers and smartphones using the Zoom videoconferencing platform via a link sent beforehand.

A screen can also be set up to project images of the online mourners, who can say their final farewells near the casket.

A maximum of 1,000 devices can simultaneously connect to the funeral services. Nishida Sougisha said it covers the fees for Zoom and allows up to 100 devices to access for free.

Memolead Corp., in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, has been offering a service since April that allows people to send condolence money online. The company began offering remote funerals two years ago, it said.

People can send condolence money using QR codes attached to obituaries sent by bereaved families.

According to Memolead, the services can also be streamed on YouTube and watched at a later date.

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