EVERY AUGUST the spirits of fallen ancestors rise all across Japan. During obon, the living commemorate them with offerings of food at altars, gathe
EVERY AUGUST the spirits of fallen ancestors rise all across Japan. During obon, the living commemorate them with offerings of food at altars, gather for festivals, and perform collective dances known as bon odori. Many stream back to their home towns to be with family and visit cemeteries to pay respects to their dead. “Graves are a place to talk,” says Yamazaki Masako of Zenyuseki, a tombstone carvers’ trade association.
This year covid-19 has upset the routine. Japan’s viral caseload is relatively small, with just 1,148 total deaths, roughly America’s daily average. But a recent rise in infections, especially in big cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, has spread the jitters. Citizens have been discouraged from travelling home and festivals have been cancelled. Family reunions have been held online to protect vulnerable elderly relatives.
Failure to visit grave-sites creates “a different type of stress—different from not being able to travel”, laments Ms Yamazaki. To help relieve the pain of missing those obligations to the past, her association turned to futuristic technology. For ¥25,000 ($236) it will produce a virtual-reality experience to let you visit a grave from the comfort of your home. “You can see it from all directions, 360 degrees,” boasts Ms Yamazaki. “It’s like you’re actually there.”
Others have hired proxies to visit the dead on their behalf….