In Japan, grave times for the tombstone trade

Thu Sep 11, 2014 5:06pm EDT
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By Yiyuan Wang

TOKYO (Reuters) - Jianxing An can see he is in a dying business.

The gravestone designer, who takes pride in works featuring musical instruments and heavenly gates, says years of shrinking

sales are driving him to close up shop in Japan and move back to his native China.

"It hasn't been easy running a Japanese company these 18 years and I want to keep it going," An said at his spartan office in suburban Tokyo, where the computers had already been packed up. "But the Japanese market is in decline and I've decided to shut down my business here and return home."

Japan's aging society should be a boon for Chinese craftsmen, such as An, who dominate the tombstone trade. The number of deaths each year is expected to increase by 30 percent over the next quarter century.

But more Japanese are choosing to have their ashes scattered at sea or planted under a tree, as these options are cheaper than a gravestone, which is usually the last big splurge for many people at a time of intense caution over the economy.

About 40 percent of Japanese already have a spot waiting in an ancestral grave, a survey by a tombstone industry group shows, limiting the scope for potential sales.

At the same time, a fifth or more of Japanese would consider alternative, natural burials. Price is one concern.   Continued...

An Jianxing, a 50 year old gravestone business owner and designer, touches a head of his designed little Buddha statue, which has a price label on for closing sale, at his company showroom in Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo September 10, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino