Amazon Delivering Monks In Japan

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Believe it or not! In Japan, where communal ties to local Buddhist temples are fading, families have in recent years been going online to find a Buddhist monk to perform funerals and other rituals.

But when Amazon Japan allowed a provider to offer “Obo-san bin,” or “Mr. Monk Delivery,” on its website, it shone a spotlight on the emerging trend and prompted a major Buddhist organization to criticize the Internet marketer of commercializing religion.

A basic plan for monk, transportation and a donation offered by the Tokyo-based provider, Minrevi Co costs 35,000 yen ($300). Three other options are available for more money. The monks would typically go to a home, funeral hall or a grave to perform the requested ceremony.
Several Japanese, however, welcome the service as a consumer-friendly approach to Buddhist rituals, whose cost is often perceived as murky and overpriced. Buddhist-style memorial services offered by temples comparable to the “monk delivery” could cost as 100,000 yen ($830). Funerals are even more expensive and can cost well over 1 million yen ($8,500).

Monk delivery services have emerged as many of Japan’s 75,000 temples are losing offerings and business with hereditary members in their communities which traditionally have been the main source of financial support. That is threatening the survival of many temples in rural areas. In fact, some experts predict that the majority of Japanese temples without income from tourism and other businesses are expected to close over the next several decades.

Minrevi spokesman Jumpei Masano says the service seems to attract those who want to have Buddhist funerals but are uneasy about pricing system, and want to keep their distance from temples.
Some monks said that the growing business highlight the Buddhist temples’ complacency and their failure to reach out and adapt to the people’s needs.

Amazon declined to comment, saying it’s only renting the space to Minrevi to promote the service, which offers only for monk delivery and a separate 20,000-yen ($170) charge for a posthumous Buddhist title, not funeral packages.

Minrevi, whose orders for the monk delivery service has tripled over the past five years, said Internet-based inquiries and phone calls surged after it placed the service on Amazon. More surprisingly, some 100 monks came forward to register for the delivery service. The company already has contracts with 400 monks nationwide, said Masano, the spokesman.

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