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Monday, December 8, 1997 Published at 08:04 GMT



BBC World Computer Week

Rest in virtual peace
image: [ Virtual cemeteries are the latest idea from Japan - you can leave a bunch of flowers with the click of your mouse ]
Virtual cemeteries are the latest idea from Japan - you can leave a bunch of flowers with the click of your mouse

The traditional way of maintaining graves in Japan is being updated for the 21st century.


[ image: Customs for honoring ancestors go back thousands of years in Japan]
Customs for honoring ancestors go back thousands of years in Japan
Through virtual cemeteries, accessed via the Internet, it is possible now to just click and drag to put flowers on to a headstone. The mouse can also be used to pour water, add incense and turn the pages of a prayer book.

This thoroughly modern way of honouring the dead is gradually catching on in Japan. An enterprising priest noticed that as families were having less children, there were fewer people to tend the graves of the dead. He created a virtual cemetery for greater convenience.


[ image: The old and the new - the traditional household alter and a lap top computer]
The old and the new - the traditional household alter and a lap top computer
Participating families still keep a traditional household altar, only now it has a laptop computer inside and a specially designed fake mahogany mouse to fit in with the surroundings.

Another more economical reason for the development of "cybergraves" is the critical lack of space for graves in Japan's cemeteries. In fact, Tokyo's public cemetery is now completely full.


[ image: The idea may soon take off in a big way]
The idea may soon take off in a big way
Dying is also a very costly business in Japan. The traditional Japanese funeral, including hiring a gilded hearse and buying a gravestone, can financially cripple a family.

Instead it is much cheaper to be quietly cremated and have a lasting memorial on the Internet.

Some have levelled criticisms at "cybergraves," particularly at the lack of spirituality and quiet contemplation that can be involved if the cybergrave is visited as part of a normal working day.

The development has also been condemned for reducing the act of tending an ancestor's grave to the level of playing a computer game.

But with the spiralling costs of funerals in Japan it looks as though virtual cemeteries are set to become increasingly popular.






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Virtual Cemetery in Tokyo

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