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Japan-Update

Temple's future rests in helping Tokyoites through the fear of dying alone

400-year-old landmark trying a relaxed approach in dealing with angst

The main hall of Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple in Tokyo's Chuo Ward

TOKYO -- As it celebrates its 400th anniversary, Tsukiji Hongwanji, a temple in central Tokyo, is investing 4.5 billion yen ($40 million) over a 10-year period to give itself new life. It plans to do so by helping people prepare for the end of theirs.

Located just steps from Tokyo's bustling Tsukiji fish market and visited by many overseas tourists, the temple aims to be a much more "accessible" place.  

The highlight of the project is the opening of a common grave.

Tsukiji Hongwanji's new common grave is the triangular-shaped building on the right.

This space will cater to those who have nobody to take care of their grave after their passing, those who do not want to bother their children with the task, or those who cannot or should not enter their family grave for one reason or another.

It also expects a lot of buyers of this space to be women, who are likely to out-live their husbands in Japan and have a high probability of dying alone.

Joint graves are popular among city folks these days for their affordability, the fact that they are not too far away and because they do not require maintenance in terms of time and cost.

But they have a downside -- the fear of having one's bones thrown in together with those of others.

Tsukiji Hongwanji has a solution for this fear.

For 1 million yen, the temple will store your bones privately for 32 years. 

Potential customers could find it difficult to drop by and begin talking to strangers about who might pick up the pieces when they die.

Realizing this, the temple has opened a cafe, a small bookstore and an information center.

From the cafe's large windows, visitors can see a fresh patch of grass and a unique looking object. This is the newly built joint grave.

The temple's new cafe Tsumugi has a view of the garden and the common grave.

The cafe, library and information counter are meant to make it easy for Tokyoites to wake up early on a weekend, have coffee (overlooking the common grave site), walk alongside the grass and enjoy the sunshine.

At night, visitors can drink alcoholic beverages while taking in the sight of the temple's illuminated main hall.

The beverages are available at Tsumugi, the cafe. At other hours, Tsumugi offers a breakfast set, lunch menu, dorayaki red bean pancakes and original tea.

The library carries about 3,000 titles, most of which are about Buddhism. In addition, the temple allows visitors to read e-books it owns via their computers and smartphones for no charge.

An official shop carrying original goods and a multipurpose room that can accommodate around 50 people -- perhaps for a seminar or sermon -- have also been set up.

Finally, a multilingual staff member mans the visitor information counter.

According to Yugen Yasunaga, the temple's head clerk, the idea behind the restoration is to continue carrying out an ancient mission -- preventing people from drifting apart.

"Temples are facing the question of how they will accommodate people's anxieties," Yasunaga said, mentioning his "life support services," including advice on inheritances, creating wills and help with sorting through the belongings of the deceased.

In Japanese, shukatsu describes the job-seeking activities that university juniors and seniors undertake in their dark suits and white shirts. Another word that sounds exactly the same but is composed of different Chinese characters is gaining traction these days. In this spelling and usage, shukatsu means preparing for one's own death.

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