Inside, Buddhist monk Ryutoku Ohora chanted a prayer in front of an altar, dressed in black robes, sandals with wooden soles and a shawl embroidered with golden thread. His tone was sombre, funereal even, but he was delivering a sales pitch for potential customers visiting the recently-built facility.
"With this kind of system we can store a lot of remains so you don't have to visit a graveyard far away," he said. "And it's convenient because it's beside the station." "The cost will be half or a third of a normal graveyard in Tokyo, because we can store many remains compared to a normal graveyard so we can offer a reasonable price."
One half of the building is a warehouse for the dead, filled from the ground floor to the shadows high above with row upon row of rectangular metal boxes. "You can put ashes for two people in one box," said the monk. "So 7,000 people maximum in this space, [when] for a normal graveyard you would get 100 graves in this area [of land]."
A key selling point of the graveyard is that the ashes can be retrieved for loved ones to honour the departed. Visiting bereaved families swipe a card in a reader attached to a computer to activate a robotic arm in the darkness of the vault.
Prospective customers seemed impressed with what they saw. "Our family grave is outside and sometimes it rains and there's strong wind and you have to fix the graveyard," said Mikiko Takazawa, who was considering the vault as a final resting place for older relatives.
"This can be an option because it's inside and it's near the station as well." "One of the things to consider is the price, it's reasonable," said Toshio Ishii, who at 82 years old was looking for his own grave. "And I think it will be nice to be stored with other people. It's more fun, there'll be company."
The Japanese have turned to technology for solutions to many of the problems of life - and now death too. Three hundred families have placed the ashes of their loved ones in the building so far. With hi-tech graveyards being built across Japan it is no longer an outlandish option, and the monk expects that the remaining slots on the shelves will be occupied soon. (BBC)