Help preserve Aoyama Cemetery's foreign section.
The Foreign Section Trust celebrates the international community's role in Japan's history and helps preserve a record of individuals' activities and achievements.
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Sachiko and I visited the Aoyama Reien Kanri Jimusho (Aoyama Cemetery Management) and Tokyo-to Kensetsu-Kyoku Koen-Ryokuchi-bu Reien-ka (Bureau of Construction of Parks, Green Areas and Cemeteries) with these objectives:
1) get a a map (preferably a surveyor's map) of the Foreign Section.
2) get the list of the "served" tombs and what is owed on each one.
3) announce the intentions of the Foreign Section Trust.
This is how we fared towards meeting those objectives:
From the Management office, we obtained a map (a clean copy of this one) and enough information about how the plots are divided up to make guesstimates on what could be owed.
The folks at the Management office were helpful but...
...have had their hands tied in this incident and kept referring us to the Bureau of Construction of Parks, Green Areas and Cemeteries in the metropolitan government office in Shinjuku. "We're just doing what we have been told. Anyone can do our job without thinking.... Since this has turned into a kokusai mondai (international incident), we can't give you the lists and details you want."
So we went to Shinjuku. From Hayashi-san at the Bureau of Construction, we were able to get a list of those "served", but not the amounts owed on each tomb or even an aggregate amount owed.
This is because, they say and rightly so, that it might constitute an invasion of privacy. What's more, because the law (which law and who made it, he didn't know) says only the family can pay the debts of the deceased, it would be a "waste of time".
He went on to explain what they were doing:
The Construction Bureau is currently following the rules. (Rules, it seems, mostly made by themselves.) But, and here is the chink in the armor, they have been contacted by institutions like universities and are considering changing the rule to allow some institutions the deceased were connected with to assume the debt and take over making payments.
He also provided us with some history:
In the 1950's, the Construction Bureau drew up plans to convert Aoyama Bochi to a park, but they realized it would be very difficult for obvious reasons.
In 1993, a local ordinance gave Tokyo-to the right to cancel the permission to use a plot, if the maintenance fee had not been paid for more than five years. The foreign section was excluded from this regulation.
In 2000, the Construction Bureau decided to do a massive clean-up which entailed giving a one-year notice notice via Kanpou, a government gazette, and a sign placed in front of the delinquent tomb. Again the foreign section was excluded.
In 2003, The Construction Bureau recommitted to the park idea by deciding to create it in a state of coexistence with Aoyama Bochi, and then decided to include the foreign section.
On October 1, 2004 the requisite posting in Kanpou and the bochi were carried out.
Currently, there is a plan to preserve the important graves, remove the unimportant ones, and build a monument to those which have been removed.
After, I wondered how they were going to draw the line between who was important and who wasn't, the response was an acknowledgement that it would be difficult to do so.
He then wondered how much of a contribution we were willing to make.
My answer was 100%. I explained that we didn't think that the Japanese taxpayer should be burdened with the preservation of the Foreign Section and that there were many of us who felt it was our responsibility to raise the funds necessary to pay the back maintenance fees and establish a trust fund to pay the fees in perpetuity. After all, when we foreigners come here we often have no family and other foreigners become our de facto family.
I went on to say that the rule which only allows family to pay the debt isn't reasonable. Anyone can pay anyone else's debt. Commercial creditors don't normally restrict who the actual payer is, do they? Creditors are happy to receive what is owed to them.
What I didn't mention is that I thought the rule was insensitive toward foreigners, who are unlikely to have extended families.
It was not an entirely successful outing, but we know a lot more now and clearly understand that we are facing a creditor who is really picky about who is paying the bills.
In any event, money needs to be raised and placed into escrow accounts before the October 1, 2005 deadline.
Our next step is to set up a meeting with a lawyer to set up the trust, so that we can begin fund raising.