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Friday, December 12, 2014

Death & Modern Times

Death… there's no use in denying it, someday you're gonna buy it. That's pretty much a line from a jingle performed on the old TV show WKRP IN Cincinnati, one of the funniest shows ever made.
They put the fun back into funeral, at least for that episode.

Yeah… I wish it were otherwise, but we live to die… and whether there is anything for us after we leave this mortal coil, well, that's when you find out for sure.

Back on the mortal coil, mankind (an oxymoron at its most moronic, usually) has spent millennia in creating monuments for the dead… sometimes for the deceased, sometimes for those who mourn their passing.

Pyramids, necropolii, funeral pyres, ossuaries, crypts and vending machines.

Okay, not vending machines exactly, but since we are talking about Japan, vending machines is an apt description.

Citing the ever descriptive complaint of a lack of space in Japan, located within the Meguro Anyoin (Bueller, Bueller, anyone? Bueller?) Buddhist temple in the Shingawa Ward of Tokyo, is a modern five-story facility to hold the created loved ones—bones and ashes - able to house 7,200 urns.

But it's Japan, so it's not just a wall with a plaque on it where the dead are interned… no… this place is an automated facility.

Cheaper than some outdoor burial plots in Tokyo, the vault also reflects changing values.

The Meguro Anyoin temple (image above, showing the inner workings of the temple's conveyance system - living human not required) decided to make more efficient use of available land by moving its main hall functions to the fifth story of the new building and putting the vault on other floors.

"It's not just the cost," says Urata Kaicho (surname first), the temple's chief priest. "An increasing number of people feel happy that they can visit in any weather and don't have to take care of the graves."

The Japanese, like many an Asian culture, celebrate the dead as much as the living, it seems, what with the annual Obon matsuri (Fesitval of the Dead), where living family members visit the family plot to take care of ALL the ancestor's funeral markers in the area, set out food and drink in an effort to entice the spirits of the deceased family to come and visit with them for a three day period.

The dead spirits who reside in Hell, are also said to be blind, so noise and sweet-smelling foods are meant to draw them out… where I suppose the must be able to smell their relative DNA to find the right family. At the end of the Obon period, where the families actually set out  symbolic food and drink on plates for the dead, the dead make their way back to Hell until next year.

Now… of course… in Japan, as in other countries, some people want to visit their dead ancestors more often than once a year. I know I've not visited my mother's vault since the one time I went on her one-year anniversary of her death 20 years ago… but that's just me. It doesn't mean she's not in my thoughts daily.

At the Meguro Anyoin, when a guest enters, they floats their previously given electronic identity card… your Deux ex Machina (Ghost in the machine), if you will.

They then travel up to the third flood where they enter a prayer booth, that is described as looking like that separate ATM area in a bank.

When you stand in front of a booth, the doors open up automatically, and the visitor faces a tombstone with the name of the dearly departed up on it. Behind the tombstone is the urn containing the ashes.

How does it get there? How does it know which urn is your ancestor?

Well, it's all automated… it's like pressing a button on a vending machine… B4 (you sunk my Battleship Yamato), and out puts your loved one (Bring out your dead).

By the way, I first read The Loved One when I was 10… and saw the movie a few weeks ago. it still is one of my all-time favorite books. It's a dark comedy. My favorite comic book villain is Thanos (Greek for Death). And yet, I'm not obsessed by death and horror, and in fact would do anything to live forever (Satan, if you are listening…)

The urns are transported from within the other levels of the facility via robotic systems that act as an arm to pull the urn placed within it its own special cubicle, and place it on a conveyor system—all developed by Toyota Industries Corp. - which is a part of the Toyota Motor Corp. group company.

I just got hit by a Toyota… ohhhhh, what a feeling. This of you who don't get that are either too young or never watched television and thus never heard the 'oh what a feeling' tag line of Toyota.

You have to hand it to Toyota, who are looking to increase their earnings, with urnings. It's a smart market to get into… everyone's going to die - you, you're next! (Twilight Zone episode), so until the human race becomes extinct, the market is ripe for the picking. Really, people are just dying to get in.

Do you think Toyota Industries used the term 'Corp' on purpose because it's close to 'corpse'? Those wacky Japanese and their sense of humor! Or maybe it's just a happy happenstance.

It's pretty cool, er, not the temperature, though maybe it is… but the Toyota transport is actually pretty quick—only taking a few minutes for the door-to-door service within the temperature-controlled environment.

As well, it only cysts ¥850,000 (~CDN $7,200)… which, is pretty good, especially when the alternative in Japan - or at least in Tokyo where there is little available space, some millions of yen for the plot of land and tombstone.

Hey… if you are going to die, why spend your kid's inheritance on yourself? As it is, this old Japanese folks tend to hit 100 easier than a Toyota in a headwind.

Along with this facility, there is another similar Buddhist temple, the Banshoji temple in the Naka Ward of Nagoya, which if you stare closely at the image below, you can see that there are these blue light-emitting diodes that lightup the 2,000 small glass containers stacked in the walls - each with the same etched icon of a Buddha.
Why so blue? I'm dead, you're not.

When you present your electronic identification card, YOUR urn, or rather your loved one's urn will ought up in a golden yellow hue.

You can't always chose when and how you are going to die, but at least at these two Japanese temples, you can choose you you want to be seen for eternity… or at least until the next EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) that will wipe out all computers - including all your hand-held devices - plunging the world into extinction because without Ask Jeeves or Google, no one will know how to start a fire without matches or a lighter.

Sure, there will be all those nature lovers and Boy/Girl Scouts who know how to make fire without a caveman handy, but rampaging hordes of nutjobs looking to prey on the weak will kill them first. Stupid jocks.

Toyota… we drive you everywhere.

Andrew Joseph

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