Some mourners turn up in formal attire, and certainly most are doing their level best to hide their grief.
They come to bid a final farewell to a loved one--be it a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a tortoise, a bird, a lizard or a fish.
This cemetery at Jindaiji, a renowned temple in Chofu, western Tokyo, is marking the 50th anniversary of a monument to deceased pets. It is one of the oldest in Japan.
Banrei To, which translates as “tower of all souls,” is 2 meters wide and 30 meters high. The concrete block was erected in 1962. The statue of a Buddhist saint, Junishi Kanzeou Bosatsu, stands vigil at the foot of the tower as a guardian of the animals.
In addition to a crematorium, the temple has indoor and outdoor vaults for interred remains.
Kanji characters engraved in the granite at one locker-type vault read, “the grave of a beloved dog of our family.” Another reads, “Thank you for caring.” Some vaults carry photos of the pet.
Among those visiting recently were Tetsuro Kishi, 66, and his wife Hideko, 62, from Kawasaki in Kanagawa Prefecture.
The couple came to inter the ashes of their dog, which died of cancer in March, after living with them for 14 years.
“It was more than a family member,” Kishi said of his beloved pet.
The dog died in his wife’s arms. They kept the dog’s ashes at their home for a while, but finally decided to inter them.
Another visitor, an elderly woman, visited the tower after wrestling with what to do with her dog’s remains.
Her dog died three years ago. She used to sleep with her canine every night. Even today, she rubs and talks to the urn containing its remains.
“I could not bring myself to part with the urn,” the woman said, her eyes brimming with tears.
Each month, the remains of 400 to 500 animals are interred at the cemetery.
In 80 percent of cases, the remains of dogs and cats are interred. The remainder comprise rabbits, which have become popular in recent years, along with tortoises, birds, lizards and ornamental koi carp.
Often, the dead pets arrive at the cemetery in a dedicated hearse.
Some 20,000 people have come to Jindaiji to place their pets’ ashes in the cemetery. Some come as far away as Yamanashi Prefecture.
Costs for cremation vary, depending on the species and details of services.
A group memorial service costs between 9,200 yen ($116) and 48,200 yen.
Some families arrange for a Buddhist monk to offer prayers for their deceased pet.
On occasion, a pet owner will cling to the casket of their pet right before the casket is moved into the oven.
Hiroshi Nagai, who has been working in the cemetery for 17 years, said people today are clearly more attached to their pets than before.
“In years gone by, many people used to feel embarrassed about treating their pets like humans because they worried that others would look at them strangely,” Nagai, 54, said. “But today, it seems only natural for a family to treat a pet as a family member.”
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