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TOKYO -- Buildings that store urns containing cremated ashes are growing in popularity as an alternative to traditional cemeteries in Japan, but laws are yet to be put in place to regulate where such facilities can be built, leading to protests from nearby residents.

The number of such facilities, often called "indoor cemeteries" by operators, has increased about 30% in the past decade in urban areas, where traditional cemeteries are in short supply.

Hidehiro Konno, who operates a pregnancy-care and birth clinic in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, plans to relocate the clinic because of an indoor cemetery being built in a tract adjacent to it. He tried to block the plan but failed.

It is a long-established, major clinic of its kind in the area, in operation for more than four decades and handling some 600 births a year.

The problem started with the demolition of an apartment building next to the clinic in April. Then the chief priest from a Buddhist temple in the city visited it and said the temple planned to build an indoor cemetery there. 

Konno protested and asked the priest to consider what pregnant mothers would think when they saw a place associated with death, standing right next to the clinic. But the priest said the facility is legal.

Indoor cemeteries may be what the ageing society of Japan needs, as the number of deaths increases. In 2016, total deaths exceeded 1.3 million for the first time since the end of World War II.

Grave shortage

The shortage of graves is particularly serious in city areas, boosting demand for indoor cemeteries.

Operating or constructing cemeteries, mausoleums or crematoriums requires permission from local governments. These oversee such activities based on regulations in accordance with guidelines the national government worked out in 2000.