Oddly Enough

Japan e-crypt offers a tomb with a view

KOFU, Japan (Reuters) - Call it a tale from the e-crypt or a tomb with a view.

Teruo Oba puts his mobile phone to scan a bar-code placed on his family's newly purchased tomb in Kofu, west of Tokyo, April 2, 2008. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

But Teruo and Miyoko Oba say there’s nothing eerie about their new family grave site, equipped with a mobile phone bar code to offer connectivity long after their own bells have tolled.

The family plot in this rural city near the Japan Alps boasts a high-tech, “QR” black-and-white square, linking the Oba’s pictures and history to phone-carrying visitors who can enter virtually to pay their respects.

Tombstone maker Ishinokoe says the QR codes, which users scan to link with everything in Japan from buses to bookings, are a new way to visit its “memorial service window” grave sites that contain more than the cremated ashes of the deceased.

“We already have a patent and should get another this month, but we hope this service is not just for our customers, but the entire funeral industry,” said Yoshitsugu Fukuzawa, head of Ishinokoe, which launched sales this month.

In a rapidly greying nation with no shortage of last rites, the Japan External Trade Organisation calls the 1.6 trillion yen (7.9 billion pounds) funeral business a growth industry, but says consumers here are becoming more demanding.

The Oba family say the new technology offers more options.

“I thought the idea was great as usually the deceased don’t have any input to how a grave site is arranged,” said 73-year-old Teruo.

“Visitors using this service can actually see the departed.”

His wife Miyoko, 70, says kids in particular will be connected.

“It’s bit of a new approach. We wanted our grandchildren to be able to use it when they visit the family site.”

But the e-grave site comes with a 21st century price tag of around 1 million yen, above the usual terrestrial rate.

Fukuzawa says he hopes Ishinokoe’s “window” service spurs on the funeral industry, while bringing families closer together.

“Nowadays most memorial services are simplified to under five minutes of just burning incense and offering flowers,” he said.

“I hope our grave site changes that and families stay near the tomb and talk about memories of the deceased for a long time.”

Editing by Hugh Lawson