Did you know you can order a monk on Amazon?

By Time Out Tokyo Editors

Having to organise a funeral service is emotionally taxing for anyone, but all the practical arrangements that go along with it can make a person feel entirely overwhelmed. Here in Japan, with many still adhering to the concept of 'born Shinto, die Buddhist', this generally includes getting hold of a monk as well. The easiest way? Head over to Amazon, which has started listing Obo-san bin – a company that provides monk services while being rather wallet-friendly.

Obo-san bin, or 'Mr Monk Delivery', was started by Minravi, a 'live/life media' business that seeks to bring a personal touch back to consumers in this digital age. Services so far include funerals and dental. (Necessities in life and death, perhaps?) Obo-san bin was started in 2013, as an extension of the funeral services being offered since 2009. Its intended audience are those who would like to hold a memorial service, but have no links to a local temple, or those who aren’t sure about the appropriate amount required for a donation. The most standard package available includes a monk, transportation and a donation, and comes to ¥35,000, while other services, including a posthumous Buddhist name, can be added at extra costs. Dozens of similar companies exist, yet Obo-san bin is the first to have carved out a space for itself on one of the largest e-retailing platforms. 

Mourners seem to have found the service rather useful, with Minrevi’s orders (both phone- and internet-based) growing exponentially over the past years. Indeed, with the details of organising a service through a local temple often being typified as vague and very expensive (memorials are said to go for ¥100,000, while funerals can be as much as ¥1 million), it might not be that surprising that people are turning to Obo-san bin. Yet temple authorities aren’t very thrilled. In a statement posted on the Japan Buddhist Association’s website, president Akisato Saito said that they were 'disappointed in this attitude towards religion by Amazon', and criticised this 'commercialisation of religion'. However, they also seem to acknowledge that they’re fighting an uphill battle, and note that they should 'listen to the needs of society and reflect on our management for the future'.

Somewhat ironically, monks themselves have been turning towards Obo-san bin, with a good 100 monks signing up after the Amazon listing, with over 400 currently offering their services through Minrevi. Many seem to take it as a way to revive the Buddhist tradition, and spread it to younger generations. Considering the popularity of the service and how dependent the temples are on donations, it might be a good idea after all… 

For more information, head to the Amazon listing.

– By Kirsty Bouwers

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