Sep 22, 2016
Glowing Buddhas in technicolor for a brighter afterlife
From the outside, the Ruriden looks like a traditional Buddhist burial building. But once you swipe an electronic IC pass card at the entrance, the tall wooden doors open to reveal a futuristic display of hundreds of multi-colored LED-lit Buddha statues.
You have just entered a cemetery.
The Ruriden (literally “The Shrine of the Lapis Lazuli Gemstone”), operated by the Koukokuji temple and located in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, is a new type of a columbarium that is home to 2,045 small altars containing ashes of the deceased.
To locate the altar they are looking for more easily, visitors can enter a PIN code to light up the Buddha statue in front of the deceased’s ashes.
Directly behind each Buddha — which is made using an ancient glass making technique and contained in a glass casing — is a storage locker storing the cremated remains.
The lights inside the Ruriden, which was built in 2006, are based on the four seasons. The Buddha statues illuminate in different colors depending on the time people visit — reddish hues in autumn, blues in winter and greens in summer.
Currently, there are 600 altars in use and another 300 are reserved. A conventional grave in Tokyo area, especially downtown, can cost several millions of yen, but a spot at Ruriden is comparatively affordable. The cost of of a one-person niche is around 750,000 yen, while a space for storing two people’s remains goes up to around 950,000 yen. A maintenance fee of 9,000 yen per year is required to keep the remains inside the shrine for 33 years. After the time has passed, the ashes will be moved from the locker to a communal area underneath the Ruriden. Once emptied, the Buddhas and the locker are not re-used, they are kept vacant.
Ruriden represents a very modern way of dealing with death in the rapidly ageing Japanese society. Normally, funeral arrangements are made by the people left behind, but many in Japan — especially those without family members — now prepare their own funerals and resting places.
As Taijun Yajima, head priest at the Ruriden, explains:
“The tradition and sentiment towards the deceased has not changed even we though use high tech solutions. This columbarium just meets the needs of the times.”