japanese jukebox of the dead

12 08 2008

It was bound to happen, given the spiraling cost of land in Japan and that country’s technological creativity:

For 79-year-old Shinya Shimada, paying his respects around the time of Japan’s annual Bon festival, when the spirits of ancestors are believed to return home, means a visit to a modern vault rather than a traditional graveyard.

“Initially, I was a bit uncomfortable with a high-tech grave. But now, I have come to see it positively,” Shimada said.

At the nondescript three-storey building alongside a Buddhist temple, Shimada uses an identity card to dial-up the gravestones and urns carrying his ancestors’ ashes.

A library-stack-like machine behind altars transports them, complete with accompanying music and pictures of the deceased on a TV monitor.

It’s a kind of jukebox for the dead. Another “vault,” maintained at the Banshoji Temple, is even using RFID chips – tiny embedded transmitters – to keep track of the deceased:

When a relative visits the “Crystal Hall” on the third floor of the temple, they will scan an RFID-enabled card which first causes images of their loved one to appear on a screen while the deceased’s preferred musical selections play in the background. Then a wall-mounted LED system will guide the visitor to the correct area among the 2,000-capacity vault, where the card will open the appropriate ashes vault.

Banshoji is in Nagoya – where, many years ago, the relative of an old friend of mine left his life as a Buddhist priest to open up a Grateful Dead theme bar.  Japan’s an interesting place.

We may someday see these “jukebox graveyards” someday in the coastal areas of the United States.  Those areas already face land scarcity in places, and that could someday be aggravated by rising coastlines caused by global warming.

Personally, I don’t care where, how, or if my remains are preserved.  Others may feel differently.  To paraphrase Olivia Newton-John:  Please Mister, please.  Don’t make me B-17.

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