Rent-a-priest makes funerals easier than ever before.
The New York Times reported last month that Japan has introduced a priest delivery network to its scattered Buddhist community. The service, called obosan-bin (priest delivery), is run through Amazon and offers several tiers of religious burial for Buddhists who don’t live near a temple.
The going rates? A no-frills memorial at home runs you $336, or you can shell out nearly double that ($624) for a graveside service and official bestowment of a Buddhist name upon the deceased.
There have, of course, been some queasy reactions to the Uber-meets-afterlife startup. According to the Times, most of the program’s detractors point to its “unseemliness” — that is, it just feels wrong. There’s also the economic factor to consider. Says Hanyu Kabuko of the anti-obosan-bin Japan Buddhist Federation: “If it becomes a fee for services instead of a donation, and the government says, ‘O.K., we’re going to tax you like a regular business,’ how are we supposed to object?”
Those who support the program champion its obvious values: convenience, economic clarity (as opposed to the “murkiness” of expected donations at a brick-and-mortar temple) and the preservation of Buddhist values in otherwise underserved parts of Japan.
So who’s right? Idealistically, perhaps the old-school guys. The Unseemly Argument does hold water, no matter which way you spin things. Ordering a priest off the internet sounds like the setup to a bad joke.
But pragmatically? It’s a money game. Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs says that revenue at temples has dropped a third in the last two decades, while the obosan-bin website (and its Amazon affiliate) expect a 20% jump in bookings this year.
Couple that with the report from TimeOut that a traditional temple memorial goes for around $1,000, and it’s tough to see why the Japanese would go retro with their death arrangements. (Especially in a country where more than half the population identifies as non-religious.)
Can’t argue with the almighty yen.