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Funeral services to honor pet insects gain quiet popularity in Japan

The "Insect Heaven" graveyard for pet bugs is seen at Ai Pet Ceremony Amagasaki in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, on Sept. 29, 2021. (Mainichi/Kiyomasa Nakamura)

AMAGASAKI, Hyogo -- There has been a sudden rise in inquiries to businesses offering funerals for beloved pet bugs in Japan, suggesting a spike in the memorial services' popularity. The Mainichi Shimbun delved deeper into the subject to find out what is behind this quiet trend.

    "We got a Japanese rhinoceros beetle as part of my daughter's education, so we were reluctant to throw it away with the biodegradable garbage when it died," said Takayuki Fukui, a 45-year-old father in the city of Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture. His daughter, a primary school second grader, cared for the beetle for about three months before it died in September. They thought of burying the beetle outdoors in a park, but the family was concerned that the bacteria decomposing the corpse would be bad for the local ecosystem.

    As Fukui was pondering disposing of the insect as combustible waste, he learned about bug funerals online and decided to apply. "My daughter was feeling sad over the rhinoceros beetle's death, but they (the company) treated the remains with care, so she seemed relieved," he said.

    Abircome Co. director Shinobu Nakata holds a kit for mailing dead insect remains, at Ai Pet Ceremony Amagasaki in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, on Sept. 29, 2021. (Mainichi/Kiyomasa Nakamura)

    Ai Pet Group, which has been offering insect funeral services since 2019, has seen its client numbers increase steady each year. Although it only had around 10 inquiries in 2019, that increased to about 40 in 2020, and as many as 100 by the end of October 2021. Most of the insects brought in are either rhinoceros beetles or stag beetles that had been under the care of children up to primary school age.

    To get a funeral for a dearly departed six-legged friend, people bring in the remains or mail them inside a special kit equipped with a drying agent and cushioning material. The insect is then buried in the "Insect Heaven" graveyard in the Hyogo Prefecture city of Amagasaki, where a Buddhist priest holds memorial services once a month. The remains are not cremated, because the carapace cannot survive the fire. Some bugs brought in even had messages attached, including, "Thanks for coming to our home in such a tiny body," and "Please go to heaven. We won't ever forget you."

    Abircome Co., which runs Ai Pet Group, launched pet funeral services in 2003. To distinguish itself from other companies, about four years ago it began services for animals other than cats and dogs, including for hamsters, parrots and rabbits. The company launched insect funerals along the same lines, and as an educational service. Most adult rhinoceros and stag beetles are bought in early summer and die in autumn. By encouraging children to commemorate the bugs' deaths properly, the company hopes to nurture attitudes that value life.

    Abircome director Shinobu Nakata, 48, commented, "The bug funerals have elicited a reaction beyond our expectations. The children are treating their pet insects with great care."

    Nakata said one reason for the growth in insect funerals is the rising number of people living in urban apartment buildings. He said, "I suppose there are more people who don't have dogs or cats, but small animals and reptiles, as well as insects. The parents who apply for the services also wish to teach the importance of lives to their children. If they experience memorial services now, this may encourage them to cherish other pets they might keep in the future."

    (Japanese original by Kiyomasa Nakamura, Hanshin Bureau)

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