Speeding up funeral services with 'drive-through' option

Mourners can register their names on a touchscreen tablet and make an offering of incense just by rolling down the car window, a process relayed to screens inside the venue for the grieving funeral host to watch.
Mourners can register their names on a touchscreen tablet and make an offering of incense just by rolling down the car window, a process relayed to screens inside the venue for the grieving funeral host to watch.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • A Japanese funeral parlour is set to offer relatives the chance to pay their final respects to deceased loved ones without leaving the comfort of their cars.

The firm claims that the "drive-through" service is a first in Japan, where a rapidly ageing population means funerals are anything but a dying trade.

Elderly mourners can register their names on a touchscreen tablet device and make a traditional offering of incense just by rolling down a car window - a process relayed to screens inside the venue for the grieving funeral host to watch.

The initiative aims to speed up funeral services and also to give infirm relatives the chance to participate, said the firm's president Masao Ogiwara.

"Older people may hesitate to attend a funeral because they have to ask for help to get out of the car," Mr Ogiwara said.

"But we want as many people as possible to be able to come to bid farewell to their friends or neighbours," he said.

It usually takes at least 15 minutes for someone in a wheelchair to offer incense at the altar during a traditional Japanese funeral ceremony.

Mr Ogiwara said the time is cut down to just a few minutes by the service, which the Kankon Sousai Aichi Group in the central Nagano prefecture expects to offer from December.

With a high average life expectancy, Japan is on the verge of becoming the first "ultra-aged" country in the world, meaning that 28 per cent of people are aged 65 or above. The latest government report shows that 27.3 per cent of a population of 127 million - one in four people - are aged 65 or older.

The figure is expected to jump to 37.7 per cent in 2050.

Drive-through funerals are the latest in a series of Japanese innovations attempting to win a slice of the competitive 1.76 trillion yen (S$21.5 billion) funeral business.

One trend that has sparked controversy is a so-called "rent a monk" system, where at the click of a mouse, a mourning family can get a monk to perform the funeral rites.

Another company went even further by replacing a real Buddhist monk with a chatty human-shaped "Pepper" robot for a funeral.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2017, with the headline 'Speeding up funeral services with 'drive-through' option'. Print Edition | Subscribe