Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Economics of Dying

When you die in Japan your body is cremated and your ashes are put in your family cemetery - usually at a Buddhist temple. If you live in a big city like Tokyo or Osaka you might have a problem. The temple cemetery filled up long ago! There's no room for you. What to do. Some temples throw out their old dead if the family doesn't pay a 'maintenance fee' any longer and resells the land!

Chourenji - for sale - 長蓮寺
[New plots advertised at Chouren-ji in Maesawa]

Temples in the countryside don't have this problem. There is plenty of land - comparatively speaking! Many temples in Iwate are expanding their cemeteries and advertising aggressively. It's not only the locals who are buying but big-city dwellers take advantage of the low prices and large plots in their 'hometowns'. Chouren-ji in Maesawa Ward, Oshu City advertises three sizes for as little as 350,000 up to 550,000 yen!

[New stone at Manzou-ji in Daito Town]

Last month I stopped by Manzou-ji in Daito Town and found a priest hard at work spreading new gravel all around his temple. It seems the chief priest there had just reached a deal with a local stonecutter. From now on all the stones put up in their cemetery have to be supplied by that stonecutter - exclusively! In return the temple got two big, beautiful stone lanterns, a stone table and chairs, new stones for the priests who had died there, some flagstones and a LOT of gravel. The value of the free stone is apparently around 18 million yen!

Check the fine print before you make a deal!


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