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Sunday, Sept. 21, 2003

Channel surf

There is a general fear that the majority of Japanese citizens are not properly prepared for a major earthquake.

Recently, the media has been filled with ominous reports about scientists predicting that a massive earthquake will hit the Kanto area this very month, which happens to mark the 80th anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake. Since no one knows exactly when an earthquake will strike, it's never too soon to prepare.

On Sept. 21 at 6:56 p.m., Asahi TV will present a special two-hour information program called, "A Major Earthquake is Surely on Its Way." The program presents simulations, both dramatic and computer-generated, of situations that will ensue if a major earthquake hits Tokyo. In addition to explaining the geological mechanisms that cause earthquakes, the program includes detailed instructions on how to survive them.

Many thousands of people would die in a large earthquake, but the number could be much lower if people are prepared and know what to do. Current countermeasures are analyzed by experts and the job of predicting earthquakes is explained. Everyone hopes that these predictions are wrong, but facing the possibility of disaster calmly and intelligently is the best way to ensure living through it.

Tuesday is a national holiday to mark the autumn equinox, which, in Japan, is traditionally a time when people visit the family grave to pray and tidy up.

On Tuesday night at 11:15, NHK-G will present a half-hour special on new trends in the cemetery business.

Japanese customs about the dead are ostensibly based on Buddhism, but in practice they are unique to this country.

Graves are held by families, and only people with the same family name can be buried together. Almost all dead bodies in Japan are cremated, and the ashes are then placed with those of ancestors in a space beneath the grave stone. Graves in Japan are almost always rented, which means they are permanent only as long as somebody pays for them. It is up to the family to come and pray for the souls of ancestors and keep the grave tidy. If they don't, or if the line simply peters out because of a lack of heirs, the grave may be destroyed to make way for another family.

New social developments have given rise to new businesses. Some families hire people to regularly visit their graves and not only clean them, but also pray for their ancestors (one prayer, apparently, being as good as another). There are also cemeteries that cater to individuals. A Buddhist priest can simply pray for everyone contained therein. But you still have to pay him.

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