Japan is currently observing the Obon holidays, a Buddhist festival where the spirits of the dead are believed to return for a family visit. Usually, people would be travelling back to their hometowns to visit relatives and clean the graves of their ancestors as a way of honouring the deceased. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, however, many people are avoiding travel. Moreover, Japan’s scorching summer heat makes it difficult even for people who live locally to pay a visit to family graves.
Now, some ingenious companies in Japan have come up with a high-tech twist on the annual tradition – by offering a remote cemetery visit, complete with professional grave cleaning and conducting offerings and prayers on your behalf.
Hiroshima-based company Kano Sekizai, for example, offers a standard course from ¥20,000, which includes a one-hour grave clean-up, plus a video visit via Zoom, during which the company staff will place flowers as offerings at the grave site – incense and candles can be added for an additional fee. The process is live-streamed, so you can follow each step in real time from the comfort of your home. You’ll even receive a letter with photos and proof of completion of the visit – perfect for any technologically challenged family members.
Launched earlier this month, Zenyuseki is a group formed by 300 stonemason companies across Japan that takes the virtual grave visit to another level, turning the entire process into a virtual-reality experience. A professional visits the grave and records the cleaning and offerings of flowers and incense using a 360-degree camera. Afterwards, the video will be sent to you via email or social media, while virtual reality goggles are shipped to your home. All you need to do is simply don the VR headset and you can watch the scene as if you were there. The experience starts at ¥25,000, including flowers and incense sticks.