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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    #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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    #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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    #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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    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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    #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.

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  • 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.

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    Noriko Hayashi

    #FutureofCities - Stairway to Heaven

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

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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.

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About Noriko Hayashi

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

Noriko began taking pictures whilst studying International Relations and Conflict studies in The Gambia, West Africa in 2007.  Whilst at university, she began taking pictures for a small local newspaper called “The Point”.

Working in a small place like Gambia, which is rarely the focus of international news but is full of interesting people and stories taught her the value of focusing on the often-overlooked aspects of global societies.

Noriko’s work has been recognized by various international awards, including winning 1st prize in the 2014 ‘Contemporary Issue Stories’ category of the ‘NPPA Best of Photojournalism’ award, winning the 2013 ‘Visa d’Or Feature Award’ at Visa Pour I’image, and winning 1st prize in the 2012 ‘DAYS JAPAN International Photojournalism Award’. Her documentary work was also a finalist for the 2013 Alexia Foundation Professional Award. 

Noriko’s works have been published internationally in titles including The Washington Post, Der Spiegel, National Geographic Japan, Marie Claire UK, Le Monde and Newsweek and DAYS JAPAN. 

Noriko has also published a book with National Geographic Japan on the subject of bride kidnappings in Kyrgyzstan, entitled “Ala Kachuu”.    

Interview

Describe the moment you knew photography changed your life

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Thinking back it’s hard to find that particular moment. I never dreamt about being a photographer when I was younger. I basically just tried a variety of things I was interested in, and in doing so again and again, eventually, I ended up becoming a photographer. 

However, I would definitely say that traveling to the Gambia when I was a university student changed the direction of my life. At that time, I wanted to work for an NGO or a humanitarian organization, so to gain practical experience; I started volunteering at a local school. I also wanted to do other things and get to know more about the country, so it occurred to me that working at a local newspaper would enable me to do this. 

So I visited The Point, an independent local newspaper. I had absolutely no reporting experience, but I just showed up anyway and asked the editor in chief to hire me. He asked, “What can you do for us?”, and because I didn’t have any particular skills to offer I said, “I can take pictures!”, even though I didn’t know the first thing about using a camera. To my surprise I was told to start working with a reporter the next day.  

That was the moment that set the direction of my life toward photography.
 
If you could sum up your work in one word or one sentence, what would that be?

My work is about connecting people and stories in an intimate way through photographs.
 
What is the most remarkable person, place or thing you have ever photographed and why?

Everyone is remarkable in his or her own way so I can’t choose one person or place. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to portray many wonderful people across different cultures, each with a unique background and society.
 
Talk to us about your bucket list... what is on the top of your list of things to photograph?

I actually don’t have a list of things to photograph.  I don’t even know where I will be shooting three months from now! However, there are various stories and issues I am interested in, and I keep researching them. Since I am based in Tokyo, I will most likely continue photographing stories at home in Japan in between working on overseas projects. But I’m always open to new ideas.
 
If you had not become a photographer, what might you be today?

Either an interior designer or an aid worker.

Give us your thoughts about the Global Imaging Ambassadors programme.



I appreciate how the program calls attention to today’s global issues. It gives the opportunity to photographers and audiences to reflect upon the future of cities and, in extension, humankind.

What is your favourite Sony camera of the moment?



I used both the Sony RX1 and the Sony α7 II for my #FutureofCities project, and I loved them both! They are light, easy to use, and the amount of information contained in the photo files is just incredible. Super high quality. One of their best features is the shutter sound - it’s almost imperceptible, and this is really important when you don’t want to disturb the subjects or the situation in front of you.

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