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Buddhist Monk Designs a New Tombstone with Modern Society in Mind

Buddhist Monk Designs a New Tombstone with Modern Society in Mind

As members of Japan’s foreign community who have truly made this country our home, many of us have decided that we will eventually be laid to rest here. But traditionally, graves in Japan are family affairs, passed down and maintained over generations.

Meeting this challenge with a solution that is both emotionally and aesthetically satisfying is a product known as an Ando(&). It is a minimalist pillar made of white marble that is designed to hold the ashes of up to three people or pets. Its shape invites those paying respects to the departed to touch—or even embrace—the tomb.

Meeting a Need

The product is based on the ideas of Joji Inoue, the chief monk at Shoudaiji, a Buddhist temple with locations in Tokyo, Funabashi in Chiba Prefecture and Shinrin Koen in Higashimatsuyama, Saitama Prefecture. The 48-year-old monk is married to a woman from overseas, and came to understand that it would be difficult for a foreigner married to a Japanese person to have a grave in Japan. In addition, at Japanese cemeteries, there might be resistance to burying people of different religions.

Inoue added that there was another reason behind creating Ando(&): changes to Japanese society itself. “In Japan, where the birth rate is declining and the population is aging, it is becoming more difficult to maintain and manage traditional graves that are inherited by families from generation to generation,” he said. “Given this situation, I wanted to create a new grave where loving people could be interred together regardless of religion, nationality, gender or relationship. And where there is no need to worry about burdening the family members left behind with inheritance or maintenance.”

Launched in 2017, Ando(&) has already been recognized for its unique design and concept: it has received the Good Design Award’s Gold Award, the Grand Award in the Design for Asia Awards and recognition in the iF Product Design Award’s concept section.

Although many Japanese cemeteries have specific restrictions about the types of graves that can be placed on their premises, Ando(&) plots can be found at Shoudaiji’s locations in Funabashi and Shinrin Koen. Inoue explains that it is possible for a group to purchase a plot or section of the graveyard and arrange multiple pillars there, for communities or groups of friends. At both locations, there are sculptural monuments that serve as communal tombs. Seven years after ashes are placed in an Ando(&), they are reburied in these tomb monuments.

Shinrin Koen Tomb Monument
Shinrin Koen tomb monument

A New Start

Having seen people fall into deep grief following a sudden farewell, the monk devised a system—called Last Letter—that conveys love even after death. When people buy an Ando(&), they write a letter that is kept for safekeeping and delivered to the remaining partner after the letter writer is buried. Inoue has seen that this final gift can be a great source of comfort. In addition, near the Ando(&) plots, there are buildings called Tegami-dokoro, where people can write letters to the deceased. The collected letters are burned once a month in a special ceremony.

Tegami-dokoro writing table
Tegami-dokoro
Tegami-dokoro
Tegami-dokoro writing table

Inoue recognizes that considering one’s final resting place can be a somber topic, but he sees that his products foster a precious sense of lasting togetherness: “I believe that choosing an Ando(&) can be a new start for two people’s lives.”

Ando(&)-New tombstone for foreigners in Japan

 

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