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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 20, 2010

Japanese visit grave sites via Web

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A cell phone displays the image of a woman who died. It was posted on a Web site run by a Buddhist temple.

Yomiuri Shimbun via MCT

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TOKYO As the nation of Japan grays and people gravitate to big cities leaving their hometowns behind, new services that enable people to see live images of the graves of their loved ones online or access photographs of their loved ones via the Web is gaining in popularity.

Several online services are available to subscribers, such as having photos of relatives who have died put online or providing access to live streamed videos of graves.

A 50-year-old magazine editor who lives in Tokyo signed up in 2009 with Cyberstone, a Web site run by Buddhist temple Kudokuin in Toshima Ward.

By entering his user ID and password on his cell phone or home computer, he can access a Web page that displays a photograph of his mother, who died in October, as well as a summary of her life and a message he dedicated to her at the funeral.

Part of the message reads: "Mom, you were always cheerful and pleasant, and were popular with others wherever you went, weren't you? Thanks a lot for always being kind to me."

The urn containing her ashes is held in the temple's tomb with other urns, before which a religious service is regularly performed.

As the man has no siblings, and spends half of the year overseas due to work commitments, while his father has been in hospital, he felt his mother "might feel lonely in the afterworld" as he could seldom visit her grave.

He said he decided to use Cyberstone "so I could remember my mother wherever I am," the man said.

Years before starting the Cyberstone service, Kudokuin temple had a computer installed beside the joint tomb to enable the families of those whose ashes are kept there to access personal data when visiting the temple.

Nyokai Matsushima, a senior monk at Kudokuin, said, "Because of such reasons as the graying of society, an increasing number of people have been finding it hard to visit the tombs of their ancestors."

"When people are able to visit their ancestors online, they can share memories of those who have passed away with relatives and friends," Matsushima added.

Another online tomb service features images of tombs streamed online.

The Buddhist temple Honkokuji, on the outskirts of Sendai, has been providing this service by streaming live images of tombs online via three cameras set up in its graveyard, which holds about 60 tombs.

By accessing the site, a relative can use a remote-control system to zoom in on a tomb with a camera to make a virtual grave visit via a PC or cell phone.

The service is usable from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. free of charge.

Since its launch in 2004, the Web site has had about 1,000 hits a month, including those who make virtual grave visits before going to work every morning, said priest Koyu Kusano, 71.

"It's of great importance that people feel in their heart that they want to remember those who have passed away, irrespective of what form that feeling may take," he added.