Stairway to Heaven

Land has become increasingly scarce in cities.

"In Tokyo, a plot at a traditional urban cemetery can be astronomically expensive, often reaching $100,000 in central areas. If one adds the purchase of the tomb and other associated costs the final price tag can be prohibitively expensive.”

The solution? Japan’s new breed of hi-tech, urban, skyscraper cemeteries.

In her inaugural #FutureofCities series Stairway to Heaven, Noriko Hayashi explores a selection of thoroughly futuristic cemeteries in the heart of Tokyo and Nagoya.

Clean, convenient, cost-effective and increasingly inclusive of differing religious beliefs; these cemeteries represent Japanese society’s evolving relationship with life, death, technology and the afterlife.

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    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony α7 II, FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS (F-stop: 7.1, Shutter: 1/50 seconds, ISO: 400)

    View of the city from the Tokyo’s Hikawa Shrine With burial site costs in Tokyo soaring to over $100,000 per plot, hi-tech solutions are being developed to create cheaper burial options. It is within this climate that high-rise, multi-storey cemeteries such as Hikawa Shrine are becoming an increasingly popular burial option.

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  • FOC JAPAN Noriko_04

    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony DSC-RX1, 35mm F2.0 (F-stop: 2.0, Shutter: 1/60 seconds, ISO: 400)

    A monk prays and reads Buddhist Sutra scriptures in front of a burial compartment in Byakurengedo cemetery in central Tokyo. The high-rise cemetery uses automated warehouse technology from the Toyota Corporation, and access to each burial compartment is granted via an electronic ID card which activates the visitors’ chosen compartment. Once activated, the visitor is greeted with small simulation tombstone featuring a photograph of the deceased individual.

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  • FOC JAPAN Noriko_05

    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony DSC-RX1, 35mm F2.0 (F-stop: 4.0, Shutter: 1/125 seconds, ISO: 400)

    Standing statue of the ‘Nyorai Tathāgata’ Buddha in the Byakurengedo cemetery in Shinjuku, Tokyo. This particular room is also used for piano concerts.

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  • FOC JAPAN Noriko_06

    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony DSC-RX1, 35mm F2.0 (F-stop: 2.5, Shutter: 1/100 seconds, ISO: 640)

    Relatives prays in front of a tombstone in the Byakurengedo cemetery in central Tokyo. Warehouse-style cemetery automation allows the relatives of the deceased to access their loved ones’ ashes in a comfortable and convenient way.

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  • FOC JAPAN Noriko_09

    Noriko Hayashi

    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony DSC-RX1, 35mm F2.0 (F-stop: 4.0, Shutter: 1/2000 seconds, ISO: 400)

    A monk looks outside from the window of Byakurengedo cemetery in central Tokyo. The cemetery is located only 3 minutes walking distance from the station of one of Tokyo’s busiest shopping districts, Shinjuku.

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    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony DSC-RX1, 35mm F2.0 (F-stop: 3.2, Shutter: 1/80 seconds, ISO: 640)

    A businessman prays in front of his relative’s tombstone in the Byakurengedo cemetery in central Tokyo. Warehouse-style cemetery automation allows the relatives of the deceased to access their loved ones’ ashes in a comfortable and convenient way.

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  • FOC JAPAN Noriko_12

    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony α7 II, FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS (F-stop: 4.0, Shutter: 1/60 seconds, ISO: 640)

    A monk sits in the ‘Suishoden’ crystal hall inside the cemetery building at Banshoji temple in Nagoya city. In this hall, blue LEDs illuminate 2,000 small glass containers decorated with an image of the Buddha, each housing the ashes of a deceased individual. Visitors access their loved ones’ ashes by inserting an electronic identity card at the entrance of the hall. This process then activates the appropriate compartment and lights it in gold. At this temple, memorial services are held regardless of religious sect.

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    Noriko Hayashi

    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony α7 II, FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS (F-stop: 4.0, Shutter: 1/100 seconds, ISO: 640)

    Burial compartments at the ‘Suishoden’ crystal hall inside the cemetery building at Banshoji temple in Nagoya city. In this hall, blue LEDs illuminate 2,000 small glass containers decorated with an image of the Buddha, each housing the ashes of a deceased individual. Visitors access their loved ones’ ashes by inserting an electronic identity card at the entrance of the hall. This process then activates the appropriate compartment and lights it in gold. At this temple, memorial services are held regardless of religious sect.

    Open fullscreen
  • FOC JAPAN Noriko_15

    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony α7 II, FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS (F-stop: 4.0, Shutter: 1/100 seconds, ISO: 640)

    Burial compartments line the walls of the ‘Suishoden’ crystal hall, located inside the cemetery building at Banshoji temple in Nagoya city. In this hall, LEDs illuminate 2,000 small glass containers decorated with an image of the Buddha, each housing the ashes of a deceased individual. Visitors access their loved ones’ ashes by inserting an electronic identity card at the entrance of the hall. This process then activates the appropriate compartment. At this temple, memorial services are held regardless of religious sect.

    Open fullscreen
  • FOC JAPAN Noriko_16

    Noriko Hayashi

    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony α7 II, FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS (F-stop: 4.0, Shutter: 1/60 seconds, ISO: 800)

    A monk prays in the ‘Suishoden’ crystal hall inside the cemetery building at Banshoji temple in Nagoya city. In this hall, blue LEDs illuminate 2,000 small glass containers decorated with an image of the Buddha, each housing the ashes of a deceased individual. Visitors access their loved ones’ ashes by inserting an electronic identity card at the entrance of the hall. This process then activates the appropriate compartment and lights it in gold. At this temple, memorial services are held regardless of religious sect.

    Open fullscreen
  • FOC JAPAN Noriko_19

    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony α7 II, FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS (F-stop: 4.0, Shutter: 1/30 seconds, ISO: 1000)

    A visitor accesses the Suishoden’ crystal hall inside the cemetery building at Banshoji temple in Nagoya city. In this hall, blue LEDs illuminate 2,000 small glass containers decorated with an image of the Buddha, each housing the ashes of a deceased individual. Visitors access their loved ones’ ashes by inserting an electronic identity card at the entrance of the hall. This process then activates the appropriate compartment and lights it in gold. At this temple, memorial services are held regardless of religious sect.

    Open fullscreen
  • FOC JAPAN Noriko_20

    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony α7 II, FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS (F-stop: 9, Shutter: 1/250 seconds, ISO: 400)

    A salesman waits for new visitors who are interested in applying to purchase burial spots at Tokyo’s Aoyama cemetery which is managed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Aoyama cemetery is an example of one of Tokyo’s traditional, park-like cemeteries which are now located on some of the world's most expensive land. The cemetery covers a large area of 263,564 square metres, yet due to high demand, burial spots here can now cost more than $100,000. It is within this climate that high-rise, multi-storey cemeteries are becoming an increasingly popular burial option in Japan.

    Open fullscreen
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    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony DSC-RX1, 35mm F2.0 (F-stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/40 seconds, ISO: 1000)

    Shinjuku Rurikoin Byakurengedo, a multi-storey cemetery in the Shinjuku district in central Tokyo. The building was designed by architect Kiyoshi Takeyama.

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    Noriko Hayashi

    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

    Sony α7 II, FE 24-70mm f4 ZA OSS (F-stop: 5.0, Shutter: 1/60 seconds, ISO: 800)

    An evening view of Tokyo’s Aoyama cemetery, managed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Aoyama cemetery is an example of one of Tokyo’s traditional, park-like cemeteries which are now located on some of the world's most expensive land. The cemetery covers a large area of 263,564 square metres, yet due to high demand, burial spots here can now cost more than $100,000. It is within this climate that high-rise, multi-storey cemeteries are becoming an increasingly popular burial option in Japan.

    Open fullscreen
Noriko Hayashi

Noriko Hayashi

"Rituals embody the thinking of a society. Looking at the new ways in which people in Japan are buried made me think about the transformations in city landscapes, lifestyle and society."

Noriko Hayashi is a Japanese photographer focusing on social issues and human conditions across the globe. 

Noriko joins the Sony Global Imaging Ambassadors with her #FutureofCities project Stairway to Heaven; a photo series exploring a selection of modern, hi-tech cemeteries in Tokyo and Nagoya.

Neat, computerised and spatially efficient; each of these buildings invite us to consider the contemporary challenges associated with urban burial in today’s 21st century Japan.

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