Drive-through-nerals? The creation of take-away funerals

Posted: 11/01/2018

You wouldn’t necessarily think pizza, burgers, chips had any sort of tangible link to funerals, but they do because now it’s possible to have a drive-through funeral.

Well, with one fairly important prerequisite: you need to live in the Japanese city of Ueda to arrange one. In December last year, the Aishoden funeral company claimed to become the very first place in the world that gives people the opportunity to mourn within the comfortable confines of their car.

 

How do take-away funerals work?

If you are guessing that a takeaway funeral works in a fairly similar way to any other type of drive-through service, then you would be correct. The grieving family and friends turn up to the non-descript one-storey building in their motors, and inch up towards the counter window in order to complete a registration form – on a tablet provided by a waiting receptionist, which should come as no surprise in a service largely fuelled by two defining characteristics –  that of convenience and speed. It is also fairly unsurprising given that Japan is already very much the leader when it comes to this area of expertise: given that there has been the creation of robot-led funerals last year, programmed with the rites of a typical Buddhist funeral, in order to help relatives cut down on funeral costs. The robot is also able to play a 16-hour long funeral playlist, should you be interested.

Following this stage, the visitors then provide condolence money and an offering of incense, customary to Japan. In Buddhist funerals, the ritual of using incense would usually take place at the altar during the funeral service. Instead, all of these steps are carried out without having to get out of the vehicle. After this step, their visit is screened on monitors inside the funeral parlour, where those mourning inside can watch as people pull-up, stop, and then drive off again. The entire process is extremely efficient, taking quite literally, one minute.

 Why have take-away funerals been created?

The company president of the take-away funeral service, Masao Ogiwara, has stated that the drive-thru facility is in fact aimed at older people and the disabled who may struggle with attending a funeral service. It is often the case that we forget how difficult this may be, especially when it comes to trying to fit wheelchairs into tiny venues, or feeling too frail or weak to go to a service.

The funeral parlour’s intention of aiming the service at seniors is particularly pertinent given Japan’s ageing population issue, take a look at some of these statistics:

  • Japan’s population is ageing dramatically – the death rate far exceeds the birth rate. In 2016, the number of births in Japan dropped below one million for the very first time.
  • Having hit a population peak at the beginning of the decade, reaching 128 million, it decreased by nearly one million from 2010 to 2015, according to the country’s census data
  • Experts believe that this is the beginning of a trend that will see the population plunge to less than 80 million. This could potentially mean that the population declines by up to one million each and every year
  • More than a quarter of the country’s inhabitant are aged 65 and over

Taking into consideration these facts, it’s clear that there could well be a demand in the country for a takeaway funeral service in which less mobile mourners will be able to pay their respects to lost loved ones. It also appears it could be a very profitable business venture too.

Are take-away funerals a good thing?

 

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A man paying his respects at a take-away funeral service in Japan. Source: Kyodo News

 

Whilst the intention of the drive-through funeral service is to help those who are elderly or disabled, the operator of the funeral home has stated that he is considering extending the service to those short on time. But is that necessarily a good thing?

In an era where we are increasingly reliant on all things digital, our behaviours have in many respects, changed in accordance with our rising dependence on technology. We are able to conduct nearly every facet of our lives in a way that is more efficient and quicker than ever before as a result of digital developments: increasingly, we can do many of the tasks we need to carry out, such as paying bills or shopping online, on our phones.

However, it means we are more demanding of everyday services as a result: there is an expectation that everything must fit seamlessly into our lives in a way never expected before the digital boom. We believe we are busier than ever, but is this partly fuelled by societies who are focused on instant gratification?  Should people really be given the opportunity then, to be able to attend a funeral service by sitting in their car?

Are take-away funerals insensitive?

For those who are fully able to attend a funeral service, it is perhaps not the most dignified option to go for if you really want to pay your condolences to someone you care about. For many, the idea of attending a drive-through funeral service still remains insensitive and devoid of feeling for the person who has passed away.

Nevertheless, it has been reported that there are intentions to roll-out the takeaway funeral service elsewhere, and perhaps this interest in doing so could also relate to how technological developments have, to an extent, numbed our emotions. We are so used to coming across on social media and other sites online, upsetting content that we would have otherwise been blissfully unaware of, as a result of globalisation, and the frequency with which we see such content means that we become desensitised. It is perhaps the case that this desensitisation is filtering through to not just how we act online, but also through to our daily interactions and perceptions of acceptable behaviour – such as deciding to attend a funeral service by car because you feel that you are too busy, and our able to see how this could be particularly upsetting for other mourners.