JIN-395 -- There's No Business Like the Hearse Business

The J@pan Inc. Newsletter

Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News

Issue No. 395
Wednesday November 29, 2006 TOKYO

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@@ VIEWPOINT: There's No Business Like the Hearse Business

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@@ VIEWPOINT: There's No Business Like the Hearse Business

Japanese children are admonished not to point at a passing
hearse, since to do so would bring their parents' demise.
There are regional variations on this admonition. For
example, in Sapporo children are taught to conceal a
thumb ("oya-yubi") as a precaution against their parents
("oya") dying.

Japanese have more reason than ever to heed this
admonition. Last year 1,077,000 people died in Japan.
That is 400,000 more than died in 1966, the year of
record low deaths in the postwar era. With the number
of deaths expected to increase annually, prospects
for the funeral business are bright. According to the
National Land and Transportation Ministry, the number
of hearse operators increased from 781 in 1965 to
4,140 in 2004.

The Japan Hearse Association says there is already too
much competition in the industry. Truck, taxi and
catering companies are the latest entrants.

The hearse itself is the key to survival in the industry.
Lately many companies are refitting imported cars into
hearses of simple design. Back in the mid-1990s the
so-called shrine-type hearse accounted for 40% of the
funereal vehicles on Japanese roads, compared with a
less than 5% share for Western-style coffin conveyors.
Today the former accounts for around 32% and the latter
for approximately 17%.

According to the Association, the funeral of Prime
Minister Masayoshi Ohira, who died in office at the
age of 70 in 1980, triggered the shift to Western-style

Why did Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira's funeral toll
the knell for the shrine-type hearse? Ohira happened
to be a Christian, the second PM of that persuasion,
following Tetsu Katayama (1887 - 1978). It would have
been incongruous for him to have transported to his final
resting place in a hearse dripping with gaudy Buddhist

The shrine-type hearse, distinguished by a massive gilded,
black-lacquered roof with sweeping eaves, has a history of
100 years and comes in several varieties. For example, in
Kansai, the region centered on Osaka and Kyoto, it is made
from plain wood, while in Nagoya it is entirely lacquered.
Despite its reflection of regional culture, it is losing
popularity. Flashy and easily recognizable, the shrine-type
hearse has come to be regarded as boding evil, a sort of
fourth horseman of the Apocalypse. Some regions have
even banned this type of hearse.

I wonder if the conspicuousness of the shrine-type
hearse was not the origin of the superstition that has
induced generations of Japanese children to hide thumbs
or leastways not point when this vehicle passes. As the
sun sets on its golden roof, Japanese will have trouble
distinguishing its replacement, the Western-style hearse.
As the Western-style hearse passes, thumbs will perhaps
remain in view, or digits unwittingly point in its direction. In
consequence, parents may die.

There's no business like the hearse business.

-- Burritt Sabin
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==================== ICA Events - Nov 30 ======

Presenter: Neeraj Jhanji, CEO of ImaHima

Details: Complete event details at http://www.icajapan.jp/(RSVP Required)
Date: Thursday, Nov 30, 2006
Time: 6:30 Doors open, soft drinks & wine included
Cost: 1,000 yen (members), 2,000 yen (non-members),
Open to all - Location is TEMPLE UNIV MITA CAMPUS


== Entrepreneur Association of Tokyo - Tuesday, December 5th ====

Speaker: Noboru Takano, Regional Director of Sales
of the Tokyo International Sales Office Ritz-Carlton Hotels Japan.

Presentation Title: "Legendary Service at the Rtiz-Carlton Hotel"

Would you like your business to have Ritz-Carlton level service?
If so, than do not miss our December 5th seminar featuring Noboru Takano,
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'Ritz-Carlton ga Taisetsu ni Suru Service wo Koeru Shunkan'.
He will be sharing some of Ritz-Carlton's secret.

Date/Time: Tuesday, December 5, 7:00 pm
Location: City Club of Tokyo - Maple Room (Canadian Embassy Complex)
Language: English
Website: http://www.ea-tokyo.com
Email: info at ea-tokyo.com


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