Send a taxi driver to your family’s resting place, but it costs extra to leave flowers.

Obon is a holiday to honor the dead in Buddhist custom and is celebrated all over Japan in the summer months. Visiting and tending to the graves of dead family members is common during this period, as this is the time that the spirits of the dead are said to return to the living realm to visit their altars.

The problem with Obon this year is that… well, everyone is in the midst of a global pandemic, meaning it’s much trickier to get out of the house in general. Many adults live, study, and work far away from the towns and cities where they grew up, meaning there’s little chance of them making the pilgrimage to see their family graves at all.

However, one taxi company based in Aichi prefecture has proposed a solution: sending a driver in your stead.

▼ Instead of porting passengers, the driver takes a one-way trip to the grave, cleans it up, and offers prayers and incense.

The person who requests a grave visiting service from the company, Daiichi Koutsuu Group (Number 1 Public Transport Group), pays 5,000 yen (US$47) to send a driver to the grave of their choice — plus the regular travel fare. After the trip, the requester will receive a photograph of the grave to prove the journey was made. The company also allows requesters to purchase flowers to leave at the grave for an additional fee.

The gesture has clearly been appreciated by some members of the community, as it has been used by people from outside the prefecture to ensure their relatives’ graves are tended. Naturally, though, the Internet had some cynicism about the venture:

“So what, can you just send them to some random grave you have no relationship with?”
“It’d be quicker and easier to just ask the temple to take care of it for you.”
“Ancestors: who is this?”

Others pointed out that you could just use Google Street View to visit the grave, both over-estimating the Street View’s capabilities and completely ignoring the cultural aspect of physically tending to the grave. Others joked about the concept of taking a photograph of the grave to prove they visited: an old Meiji superstition decrees that snapping a photograph will capture the subject’s soul in the image, meaning the unwitting taxi driver might go home with a ghost riding with them.

The service seems like a great idea to help provide some comfort to families in the Obon period, even if just by keeping the family grave tidy and well-cared for. The amount of buzz Daiichi Koutsuu Group has received for their idea practically guarantees we’ll see more taxi companies offering similarly helpful services. Hopefully, the ancestors won’t mind having some smartly-dressed drivers fill in for their descendants, especially considering the circumstances.

Source: NHK News via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso

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