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The mobile pet cremation service

Ritual incense, spiritual music and elegantly carved memorial stones are common elements of any funeral in Japan. For humans that is. Until recently their four footed companions were not given similar send-off rites. But an enterprising businessman, Takafumi Yoshida, changed all that.

A variety of pet services exist in this affluent society. They cater to masses of solitary city dwellers living in cramped apartments where they often don’t know most of the neighbours in their block. Animal companionship has become a substitute for the human kind. Fee charging dog walking parks in Tokyo are one example of the burgeoning needs of these alienated citizens.

Another is door-to-door mobile pet cremation. This involves a truck with a fuel fired incinerator going to the address of the deceased and disposing of the body on the spot. Yoshida worked for a Tokyo company offering this service. It disposed mostly of cats and dogs, although he says "I once had to do a funeral for a snake and another time for an iguana".

When Yoshida returned to his native Okinawa, an island chain far to the south of mainland Japan, he realised there were no such services there. He also realised "I could go one better than the Tokyo company, using my connections in China". He had once lived in China and got to know the boss of a stone exporting company there. His idea was to import commemorative marble headstones, carved in China.

Yoshida found a business partner and they set up the Okinawa Pet Funeral Service Centre. They bought a light truck which they fitted with an industrial burner, concealed by tasteful curtains, just behind the cab.

They started offering pet funerals where the back doors of the vehicle open to reveal flowers, incense and a dignified wooden coffin. There is time for reflection and prayer and appropriate mood music is played. This can be Buddhist chants with monks’ ceremonial drumming or Christian choirs. Then the curtains are drawn and the animal’s body is switched to a cardboard coffin – "less expensive and more environmentally friendly" confides Yoshida. The music covers the distressing roar of the flames.

No detail is missed. In Buddhist tradition flowers are delivered to the bereaved seven days after a death and so the company provides this service too for grieving pet owners.

Marble headstones are inscribed with the animal’s name, epitaph and visual flourishes like ribbons. Pictures of the animals can also be rendered onto the marble by submitting photographs. "The photographs are sent to China and sculptors there carve them into grey or black marble in needlepoint colours" explained Yoshida.

Prices for headstones start at $100 and rise to $400 depending on size and deluxe options such as spaces for ash or candles.

The funeral itself is within a similar price range, calculated according to the weight of the late pet.

Bereaved owners can have their animals’ ashes returned to them, or if they prefer not to be reminded of the tails that wag no more, the company will arrange for the remains to be interred in a local public pet cemetery.

Yoshida says most of his customers are urban and he is not expecting any great demand for funeral rites and memorial stones from the countryside where Okinawa’s other significant domesticated species live: cows, pigs and goats