A Buddhist altar set, designed to fit the changing Japanese views of life, death, and memorial services. Whether due to the economy or the declining birthrate and aging population, an increasing number of households are finding difficulty building and maintaining gravesites on estates meant for passing on to future generations. Moreover, the diversification of Japanese views on life and death is eroding inclinations toward interring ashes at Buddhist temples and placing traditional altars within homes. Meanwhile, memorial jewelry and urns made to fit interior spaces are gathering attention, their intention to focus on emotional values and alleviate a mourner’s sense of loss and loneliness by incorporating the deceased’s ashes into the former’s daily life. The free-spirited approach of returning loved ones to nature, through a tree burial or by scattering powdered bones in the sea, is also gaining traction.

It is against such a backdrop that the Buddhist altar in question was designed. Comprising four parts—urn, incense burner, vase, and bell—the altar subtly integrates the roles of all four into one landscape, rather than merely providing a tray on which to place the accessories. The urn is hidden beneath a small hill, and filling the dip in the landscape with water turns it into a lake, or a vase to hold flowers. An incense stick may be used either upright or on its side, with the small hollow serving as a burner to catch its ashes. Finally, the bell too is one of the altar’s hills and dales, ringing from within at the touch of a hand. A pendant to house a small amount of ashes to wear around the neck was also designed. The pendant is actually a section cut away from its holder, the latter hill-shaped like the urn. May its wearer feel as though they stay close to the one who rests in that landscape.

The design is intended to be bounteous, letting mourners feel both the lure of memorial jewelry or urns, and the image of tree burials or ash scattering with a feeling of being at one with nature.

Arata Nishikawa
Richard Bone
Tsunehiko Okazaki