Author: CHUNG Yoon Ngan
Date: 07-30-12 07:29
I have been told by friends in the old country asking me not to stop
posting this magazine (CHINA DAILY - Asia Weekly) to asiawind.com
because they cannot buy it in their countries.
In order to save space, I will post all the articles for that week, under one thread and at the same time making it easy for them, instead of searching around.
Business of dying
By Jennifer Lo
July 20, 2012 - 10:17am http://www.chinadailyapac.com
1 of 4
No tears but applause, no paper offerings but hand-written cards, no tear-jerkers but her favorite light jazz. Instead of a hysteric outpouring of sorrow, after a short bio on a projector screen, the well wishers in attendance queue to gently touch hands with her.
It could have been any farewell but the occasion was in fact the funeral for an 86-year-old woman from Shanghai, organized by Chinese funeral service giant Fushouyuan.
This new type of personalized funeral, miles away from the traditional black-hearse-and-suit affair, is an example of how the funeral industry in Asia is trying to tap into a growing market and changing consumers’ preferences.
Asians may be living longer than ever before but they are also aging fast. With 60 percent of the world’s population, Asia is set to be home to some of the largest concentrations of the elderly, the World Health Organization notes. By 2050, one in four people in Asia will be 60 or older, up from one in 10 in 2010, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
In China and India, the over-60 population will surge nearly threefold to 439 million and 323 million respectively in 40 years. Japan, with the oldest population of all countries in Asia, can expect to have almost one-third of its population aged 65 or over by 2050.
A 2008 study by Swiss banking giant UBS shows four of the world’s 10 fastest aging populations to be in Asia: Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong. Developing economies such as China and Thailand are aging at a faster pace than Spain, France and the US.
Because of this, dealing with death will be a major occupation. Businesses catering to the families of the bereaved, such as those that arrange funerals, supply materials for ceremonies and memorialize the dead, can reap long-term benefits, says Simon Smiles, researcher of the UBS report.
The funeral industry is expected to pick up on the back of Asia’s millions of baby boomers born in the late 1940s and 1950s, says Kong Hon Kong, founder of Malaysia-based NV Multi Asia, a bereavement services provider which owns cemeteries across Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The demand for pre-arranged funeral services from those who are now in their 60s is growing. People hire wedding planners for nuptials, consultants for retirement plans and personal trainers for keeping fit. Now they are planning their own personalized funerals.
“We’re seeing funerals deviating from religious beliefs, structure and rituals, moving towards personalized and unstructured events that reflect the beliefs of the deceased and his or her family,” says Martin Tobin, founder of OutLore Consulting, a funeral adviser in Melbourne, Australia.
For example, a die-hard cyclist’s casket is carried not by a hearse, but a four-wheel bicycle, says Tobin. Also, it is not only after death that a funeral is held. Twenty-five-year-old David Tseng of Taiwan, who was in the terminal stage of a muscular disease that had paralyzed him since childhood, held a “living funeral” to bid farewell to his family and doctors.
The event was reminiscent of Mitch Albom’s bestselling novel Tuesdays with Morrie, in which an aged professor gathers friends and family in his home to hold a “living farewell”. His argument is that it would do him no good if his funeral was held after his death.
“What a waste,” Morrie says in the book. “All those people saying all those wonderful things, and I never [get to] hear any of it.”
The tradition of splashing out on funerals in Asia means the industry is a lucrative one. In Chinese culture, it is believed that elaborate ceremonies not only honor the deceased and ancestors, but also bring good fortune to his or her extant descendants.
It is not unusual for a family to spend several years’ income on a lavish send-off. The Japanese spend an average of 1.2 million yen ($15,072) on funerals, including flowers, caskets and urns. Japan’s funeral market is worth $21 billion a year, twice that of the US.
The 200 billion yuan ($31 billion) funeral industry in China is one of the country’s most lucrative businesses, with an average Chinese spending 2,000 yuan on funerals, official figures show.
Some funeral and cremation businesses are turning a handsome profit in Asia, metamorphosing from mom-and-pop affairs into listed companies. A search on Bloomberg shows that a quarter of the 40 listed funeral companies worldwide are in the Asia Pacific. Of these, half are based in Japan, with the rest in Australia, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Changing attitudes towards death are giving the industry a boost. Talking about funerals is no longer as much of a taboo. Also limited burial space and the often astronomical cost of funeral services mean many are opting for simplicity and going green.
The Australia-based LifeArt International is among those cashing in on the emerging eco trend in Asia. The company’s catalogue features caskets bearing designs of Chinese dim sum, teddy bears or other personalized preferences.
Since 2004, the company has started to make coffins that are friendlier to the environment.
“(Concern for) for the environment is now everywhere. It (touches) every single industry, whether it’s food or clothing. We can’t avoid it anymore,” says Eckhard Kemmerer, managing director of LifeArt.
The company’s lightweight, low-emission caskets are made from almost 100 percent bio-degradable materials, including wood fiber and recycled cardboard.
Burial caskets can be a drain on the environment, Kemmerer says: “(It) doesn’t make sense when we are trying to reduce [our daily] emissions.”
For centuries, burning paper effigies for the deceased has been an important part of ancestor worship in most Chinese communities in Asia. But rather than burning substandard paper iPhones, Ferraris, eerie pink-faced paper servants or hell bank notes, Taiwan paper art company Skea is taking effigies to a new level with its sophisticated doll houses, miniature bakeries and ice-cream carts that can be custom made using paper and light wood.
Skea’s handmade creations don’t come cheap. A paper villa costs NT$30,000 ($1,000), while jets and sports cars are priced from NT4,000. But the growing affluence and influence of Asia and the changing taste of consumers have created a new market for Skea. The company receives orders from Singapore, Japan — even New York.
Yean Han, founder-director of Skea, says her move into the “death” business was unexpected. The idea was born in 2007 following the death of her grandfather who died without realizing his dream of visiting Japan. Han’s grandmother wept for days, frustrated with the lack of suitable paper effigies to burn for him.
“They looked awful,” says Han about the stereotypical offerings on the market. Upon her grandma’s request, she crafted a two-storey spa villa. On seeing it, the family saw the widow smile for the first time since her husband had passed away.
“We were so surprised when she announced that she’d been afraid of dying, but now that she knew she’d be getting one of these offerings, life in the spirit world would be fabulous,” Han says.
One of the biggest challenges for industry players, even the well-established, is to incorporate new technology, from social media to digital tools, into the antiquated industry.
Tech-savvy baby boomers are already competent users of the Internet. Everything can be done in just a few clicks, from greeting friends on their birthdays to paying bills, ordering air tickets and watching live soccer matches.
“Who doesn’t want more convenience when it comes to dealing with the dead?” says Derek Goh, founder of HeavenAddress, an online memorial that resembles a social networking site.
As Asia boasts a fast-growing Internet population, industry players are offering webcast funerals, online memorials and mobile apps with enabling functions.
“If you’re not devoting enough resources to the web, you’re missing out on major trends in the physical world,” says Tobin of OutLore. “Don’t be afraid to hire information technology gurus, social media experts and graphic designers for your organizations.”
However, changing technology and modern lifestyles in Asia pose no threat to traditional practices such as the actual funeral. There is tremendous business potential out there, say industry players.
“The prospect for the funeral industry in Asia is very exceptional,” says Craig Caldwell, vice-president of business development of The Dodge Company, a US supplier for embalming cosmetics.
“Funerals are still very important in Asia. This is one of the traditions we seem to be losing in other parts of the world where [the view is just] getting a funeral done.”
VIDEO: Eco-friendly, bespoke funerals?
View caskets bearing designs of Chinese dim sum, teddy bears or effigies of sophisticated doll houses, miniature bakeries or ice-cream carts that can be custom-made from paper and light wood.
A grave issue
Keeping memories virtually alive