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High-tech columbarium

By: Floro Mercene

A WHITE, square spaceship-like structure anchored amidst a sea of high-rise buildings in Shinjuku, one of the busiest shopping areas of Tokyo, is the Rurikoin Byakurendo, a new Buddhist temple.

This is no ordinary temple. In classic Buddhist temple organizations, different pavilions are horizontally distributed in an open space. Here it is vertically organized. Its tall round body has softly curved edges, a tapered base and a white concrete facade punctured with small circles and rounded rectangles for windows. The multi-storey building hosts everything from prayer rooms to concert rooms.

The sound of water greets visitors, flowing hypnotically over the tiered stone surface of a tilted 6.6-meter high waterfall that spans the side of the building. The lobby, more boutique hotel than temple, is manned by grey-suited modern-day temple staff at the reception.

The building doesn’t feel anything like a crematorium. When you swipe the card, a machine automatically fetches the family urns from an underground vault and transports them across a conveyor belt system to the altar of one of eight viewing booths, alongside electronic photographs of the deceased.

Several floors in the heart of the building is an off-limits high-tech vault system of Toyota’s hidden conveyor belt and fork lift tech that can hold the cremated remains of up to 7,000 people.

While in Hong Kong, the idea of the Floating Eternity project is a sea-faring cemetery aimed at relieving pressure on Hong Kong’s burial sites was conceived by Bread Studio, a local architectural firm in 2012. It is a proposed idea of turning an ocean liner into a seafaring cemetery. In Hong Kong, there is barely enough land for the living, let alone the dead. The Floating Eternity, if built, would offer enough columbarium space to house the ashes of 370,000 people at an affordable price.