Have you thought about what you would like done with your body after you die?
Of course, it’s uncomfortable to contemplate your own death or the death of a loved one, but we’ve all got to go sometime. In Japan, the vast majority of people are cremated and their ashes interred at a family grave. While this is certainly more space-efficient than the Western practice of burying the casket, room in the plot does eventually run out. Then the family is faced with the expensive choice of either expanding the existing plot if possible or finding and purchasing a new one. Then there are all kinds of hidden costs, like construction and maintenance fees. It’s a lot to think about.
With these concerns in mind, a new style of internment has been gaining popularity even in traditional Japan. It’s called a forest cemetery.
As the name would suggest, in a forest cemetery you choose a tree instead of a headstone. One of the eight forest cemeteries currently in operation is located within Tokyo’s Kodairareien Cemetery. Magnolias, dogwoods, Japanese maples, summer camellias, and silk trees have been planted on the grounds, with communal burial areas located underneath. Ashes are buried directly in the soil so a person’s body can be quickly welcomed back into the ecosystem. It’s possible to reserve a spot for yourself or a bereaved family can also apply.
There are a lot of traditions in Japan that revolve around visiting grave, so the usual vases for flowers and incense have been placed at each grave site for visitors. Buddhists, Christians and other denominations are buried together without restriction.
This particular forest cemetery began taking reservations for its 500 available spots in July of this year and applications far exceeded their expectations. If you are curious, the interment of remains costs 134,000 yen (about US$1600) and just ashes costs 44,000 yen (about US$500). Unlike most other cemeteries in Japan, there are no ongoing maintenance fees, which may be part of the appeal of this type of burial.
According to their representative, an additional 10,700 slots will go on sale next year, and they also have plans to offer private rather than communal burial plots.
Not everyone is in love with the idea. In a country where many people live in massive apartment buildings, many still want a place of their own to be buried in, so they are highly resistant to the idea of a communal burial plot. But times are changing and the number of people who don’t have a family grave site are increasing. Many people also feel that rather than burying someone in a distant family grave where they might only be able to visit once a year, burying them close to home would be better.
If logistical issues aren’t enough to sway you, think about the atmosphere. Cemeteries are often seen as dim, spooky places, but a forest cemetery sounds like a nice place for a stroll on a sunny day. After all, ending up under softly swaying tree branches and eventually becoming a part of that tree itself doesn’t sound so bad, does it?