Ponder diversification of graves, how to remember deceased family

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe Bon holiday period has come again this year. Many people will probably visit family graves when they return to their hometowns. But how long will this custom continue?

An increasing number of people are choosing to dismantle their ancestral tombs, making the graveyard plots vacant once again. This reflects the absence of successors to care for family graves, as well as the concerns of parents who are reluctant to have their children and grandchildren maintain their family graves in the future.

There also has been a noticeable increase in the number of cases in which people relocate remains from regional areas to rebury them near urban residential areas. The number of such reburials amounts to 100,000 a year. This is because people living in urban areas have no time and financially cannot afford to visit distant graves.

According to a survey by the Japan Buddhist Federation, about 50 percent of people who said it takes them more than an hour to reach their family temples from their homes answered that their interaction with the temple would decrease in the future. Among those who said it takes them more than two hours to their family temples, about 40 percent said they would not have any dealings with the temple in the near future.

It is possible to say that the tradition of family members taking care of ancestral graves will no longer be a matter of course.

The types of graves have also diversified. In recent years, graves for group burials for which perpetual memorial services are conducted regardless of religious sect are gaining popularity, as are repositories that store remains in urns. There are also graves in which remains are buried under cherry and other trees.

Local govts contribute

Many people relocate remains to group burial sites and elsewhere in the hope of preventing their ancestors’ graves from becoming abandoned. Another reason for the diversification of graves is probably that it does not cost much to maintain and manage such types of resting places. It is natural for different styles of memorial services to spread in accordance with individual circumstances.

There are also moves by local governments to support the management of graves. For people who cannot visit, the Kasai city government in Hyogo Prefecture checks on the conditions of graves and cleans them in return for donations made via the furusato nozei system.

With the declining birthrate, the number of people who take care of graves will further decrease in the future. Local governments will be required to provide attentive services that meet the needs of the times.

Changes in types of graves have an impact on the management of temples. Closing graves and reburying remains will lead to more patron households leaving temples, weakening their foundation.

In recent years, there has also been increased simplification of funerals, such as direct burials in which the deceased is cremated without any funeral service, hurting the management of temples that have conducted Buddhist-style funerals. It has been pointed out that 20,000 out of about 77,000 temples in the nation no longer have a chief priest.

Following the establishment of the temple patron household system in the Edo period (1603-1867), the presence of temples became indispensable to local communities. This situation involving temples may be forced to change.

Where will an anchor be found to maintain spiritual connections with ancestors and deceased family members? It would be advisable to take this Bon holiday period as an opportunity to reconsider it.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 11, 2019)Speech


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