Fortunately, I’m still too young to reflect upon life in the afterworld with any sense of reality. But no one can be sure when he'll be joining the dead, so I can't be too complacent. .
The concentration of population resulting from continued urbanization and the rapid aging of the Japanese population have increased the demand for cemeteries, thus bringing into bold relief the problem of lack of space for building them. From a sociological viewpoint, two factors are creating the impression of a cemetery boom: (1) an expanding memorial industry triggered by the increased demand for burial space and (2) the rising price of burial plots caused by commercialization and image manipulation, including the emphasis on prestige names. Cemetery certificates are being treated like memberships in golf clubs. And in fact, like golf clubs, cemeteries now have to be built in areas far from where urban dwellers live their daily lives.
Since it is now almost impossible to obtain sufficient land to build traditional-style level cemeteries in large cities, architects have started thinking about cemeteries in three dimensions so as to make the best use of limited space. It is estimated that the demand for gravesites in public cemeteries in Tokyo will increase by about 10,000 individual graves every year for the next 10 years. While it may only be a drop in the bucket, the new charnel house at Tama Cemetery has adopted a fresh approach. By making full use of three-dimensionality, it offers 5,200 slots to house the bones of fully 21,000 dead souls. The large capacity-10 times that of a traditional lawn-style cemetery - is achieved by using a concentric circle of tiered platforms.
Establishing a new worshiping style as well, the charnel house itself serves as gravestone. Memorial services are held with the worshipers facing the building to offer their flowers, incense and so on. This, in a sense, is an indirect form of worship. The inside of the charnel house is designed to be a place where one's mind and soul really share the same space with the spirit of the dead - to wit, a place of meditation where one experiences the “other world.” Therefore, private memorial services as mentioned above are not permitted inside. In other words, the interior has been transformed into a public space.
There are actually two types of space inside: (1) a ”traveling Space” which one perceives while one moves through it; and (2) a “radiating space” which one perceives by looking around while remaining still. Together, these two types of space create a spiritual spot where man is the main constituent. They also provide support for the functions of the Cemetery.
The building is in the form of a huge inverted cone buried in the ground, and in its interior the tip of a cone monument rises in the center from the ground as if to symbolize the idea of reincarnation. There are six circular tiers of crypts, their walls decorated with mosaic designs symbolic of spiritual life, representing, for instance, the Land of Perfect Bliss, all things in nature, the changes of the four seasons, and the passage of time. The concept of space and modes of worship had to be made symbolical because, being a public facility, the place cannot represent any particular religion. Thus, there had to be a shift in value from religious space to spiritual space.
Considering the overall effect, I’m left with the impression the innovative new charnel house bears eloquent testimony to the profound concern and interest now being entertained by the public regarding the final destination in the sociological idea of ''cradle to grave” welfare.
Text by Hiroshi Innami 1993/11