[FOUNTAIN]Cremations no longer a grave affairCrematoriums are unwanted facilities everywhere. They are unwelcome even in Japan where 99.5 percent of the dead are cremated. The smoke, odor and unique dreariness make crematoriums abominations.
However, Kaze-no-oka Crematorium in Nakatsu, Kyushu island, has established itself as a regional landmark. Built in 1996, the crematorium is free of chimneys. Instead, the innovative crematory is equipped with a special burner that completely eliminates smoke and odor.
Moreover, the crematorium was built with architectural aesthetics in mind. Acclaimed architect Fumihiko Maki designed the facility, which upon completion immediately became a must-see structure for aspiring architects. The vast 4.7-acre park within the complex is adorned with various sculptures and structures symbolizing life and death, meeting and parting. The mourning families and friends can cherish the dead and contemplate the meaning of life in the park. Thanks to the peaceful and serene atmosphere, local elementary schools take children to the crematorium for field trips.
Other new services are available. The Japanese mortuary industry is trying to establish itself as a service-oriented business. In the past, the image of undertakers was not favorable. They used to charge very high prices that included hidden fees and unclear charges. The families of the dead had to pay whatever the undertaker charged in order to have a funeral.
Recently, some undertakers saw a business opportunity from the unreasonable funeral culture, and the funeral ventures providing innovative services are expanding rapidly. The most celebrated of the bunch is Epoch Japan, widely considered the innovative leader in the funeral industry. The company was founded by a master’s degree in business administration holder in his thirties in 2000. The company provides a detailed price list itemizing each service with a wide price range. The company also offers a reservation program so seniors can pay installments for their own funerals in order to lessen the financial burden on their children.
In Korea, the Ministry of Health and Welfare recently announced a program to change the funeral system. Hopefully, the program can drastically change the funeral culture.
by Nahm Yoon-ho
The writer is head of the family affairs team at the JoongAng Ilbo.