Is it strange that my favourite places in Tokyo are often graveyards? The hyper urban environment and working life of Japan’s capital can really put pressure on those living in the city, and occasionally taking a quiet detour to wander through the solid stone grave monuments is one way to take a break from the concrete jungle without having the leave the city.
There’s no doubt you’ll come across graveyards if you’re interested in visiting shrines and temples in Japan, and as long as you’re sure to remember to walk through with respect you’re free to admire the architecture and memorials. They’re usually great places get a striking view of traditional buildings against a backdrop of skyscrapers, and to take a moment to appreciate Japan’s relationship with burial and death.
A major festival involving graveyards in Japan is ‘Obon’, a time for people across the country to travel back to their hometowns to meet family and pay their respects to their ancestors. This includes saying prayers as well as visiting tombs to clean and care for graves, often leaving flowers or other tokens at the gravesite.
Obon has been celebrated for more than 500 years, but 2020 has been an underwhelming year for the family centred tradition. Since Obon involves so much travel from the cities to hometowns in the countryside, particularly to meet vulnerable older relatives, there’s been far less participation in order to avoid any spread of Covid 19.
This has also meant far fewer people in Japan have been willing to venture out to family gravesites to keep tombs well maintained, but a company in Tokyo which has also been hit hard by the pandemic have come up with a creative solution.
In the weeks before Obon began, Taxi Company Daiichi Koutsu Sangyo began to offer the unique graveyard visitation service in the place of those too busy, too vulnerable or too far away to properly fulfil their Obon Festival traditions.
With the need for social distancing causing serious problems for taxi drivers everywhere, the decision to offer this new service certainly shows determination to stay on top of new normal challenges.
For the slightly steep price of 5,000円 (about £35) in addition to a regular taxi fare, employees of Daiichi Koutsu Sangyo will head out to visit an ancestors grave in your place, to clean it, care for it, and take a photo to prove it’s been properly looked after. They’ll even leave flowers if you’re willing to pay extra!
It’s certainly a service which could help to reassure elderly people who won’t be able to tend to graves themselves this year, and it’s definitely going to get other taxi companies interested. But while sending out a neatly uniformed taxi driver gives off a very respectable vibe, this seems a bit too disconnected from family traditions to stay popular.