02/01/2016, 13.31

Amazon Japan offers online ‘monk delivery’ services

The Japan branch of the online retailer has allowed on its website Minervi, a company that supplies Buddhist monks for funerals and other rituals at a lower price than memorial services offered by temples. The Japan Buddhist Association is not very pleased by this. Yet, many Buddhist monks have signed up for the service.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – In recent years Japanese families have turned to the Internet to find a Buddhist monk to perform funerals and memorial rituals. The service is called “Obo-san bin,” i.e. “Mr Monk Delivery”.

One of the emerging budget funeral services companies is Minrevi, whose services can be rented via the Amazon Japan website. A basic plan for monk, transportation and a donation offered by the Tokyo-based provider costs 35,000 yen (US$ 300).

One of Japan’s main Buddhist organisations was none too pleased. “Such a thing is allowed in no other country in the world. In this regard, we must say we are disappointed by an attitude towards religion by Amazon,” said Akisato Saito, director of the Japan Buddhist Association.

For its part, Amazon Japan declined to comment, saying it was only renting the space to Minrevi to promote the service.

The latter is happy with the arrangement, which has increased its overall visibility. So are many Japanese. Buddhist-style memorial services offered by temples comparable to the ‘’Mr Monk delivery’ can cost as much as 100,000 yen (US$ 825). And full funeral services are much more expensive.

For many people what monasteries and temples charge is "excessive and inexplicable". This explains why many Buddhist temples (about 75,000 in the whole country) are in decline and no longer in touch with local communities.

“Many people don’t have ties with temples and they have no idea where and how to arrange Buddhist rituals, while monks are increasingly concerned about their declining temple membership,” said Minrevi spokesman Jumpei Masano as he tried to downplay accusations that the company is trying to cash in on religion. “We can cater to the needs on both sides and hopefully we can bring them together.”

In the last few weeks, about a hundred monks have come forward to register for the delivery service.

The issue has reopened the debate over the decline of religiosity in Japan. “We do understand there are criticisms of us as well and we take them seriously. And we must ask ourselves if and how we can change,” said Hanyu Kakubo, public relations secretary for the Japan Buddhist Association.

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