How One Author "Wants to Be Dead" and a Look Inside Japan's Corpse Hotels

Thursday, July 20, 2017

It seems like there has been a lot of death related content on the New York Times lately! Anyways, I wanted to share a few interesting pieces that have come out recently. First up, a recent Op-Ed with the splashy title "This Is How I Want to Be Dead." In it, the writer Richard Conniff - who has written extensively about animal behavior, the natural world, and humanity over the course of his career - focuses on his own future funeral arrangements, the rise of cremation and green burial, and the environmental concerns surrounding both. Conniff then goes on to discuss naturalistic burials, "the idea of using the cost of burials to buy and preserve undeveloped land." Beyond a section in an existing cemetery reserved for a green burial, these "natural burial grounds are...about conservation." 

Obviously this is an opinion column, but I think it is a worthwhile case study. It says a lot about how far we have come in talking about death care planning in the general public. People are thinking about these issues, they have a lot of options, they have a lot of resources and a lot of opinions. We are seeing just how often death care issues are making their way into the public discourse, and prominently so. Articles like Conniff's demonstrate the increasing interconnectedness of decision making - other parts of the world, the future, the environment, other people and family, our legacies - and how those factors augment and inform everything from our day-to-day experience down to our end-of-life planning. We push for (rightfully so) families to "have the talk of a lifetime," so we also shouldn't be surprised by what kind of conversations (and people) might walk through the door. It is also a good read.

The next piece that caught my eye takes us to Japan for an interesting solution to overcrowded crematories. "Crematory is Booked? Japan Offers Corpse Hotels" discusses the rise in popularity of "corpse hotels," a solution that has emerged in Japan as families are getting stuck waiting for cremations for several days. They allow families to store their loved one until the crematories are ready and also host small wakes away from the home. One of the operators lays it out explicitly - "the demand for cremation will increase until the baby boomers disappear." And the crematories are seriously overbooked.

As part of the tradition of the dominant Shinto and Buddhist religions, nearly 100% of people in Japan are cremated. That, coupled with the steady rise in the death rate, which is expected to peak at 1.7 million by 2040, has led to these inexpensive and creative alternatives. The industry in Japan is responding to a myriad of challenges that may sound familiar to us: urbanization, rising death rate, aging population, a decrease in the strength of community/familial bonds, and a basic change in mourning practices (families opting for shorter and less elaborate memorials).

And finally, I wanted to pass along this photo essay about one of the largest cemeteries in the Philippines and the people that actually have made their homes among the mausoleums.

Thanks for reading!