Photo/IllutrationA memorial photo is put on the back of the lid of one of the "Ending Box" type of decorated urns, while ossuaries in the foreground are shaped like cosmetic bottles. (Keiichiro Inoue)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Mikako Fuse got the idea to create “kawaii” (cute) urns when seeing ashes of her friends placed in typical but plain receptacles. She hoped to make unique ossuaries that reflected the personalities of the deceased.

Fuse, 43, who lives in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward and has been involved in the development of briefs for women and other unorthodox hit items, decided to produce urns decorated with crystal glass and other ornamental styles.

In the hope of “creating urns in which I feel like having my own ashes placed,” Fuse decided to enter the funeral business, and her ossuaries are now drawing considerable attention.

One of her alloy-made urns is vivid blue and pink and bears images of animals and plants. The ossuary also showcases crystal glass and pearls made by accessory maker Swarovski ... it looks like a treasure chest.

After such urns, sold under the Ending Box brand name, were put on display at a business fair for the funeral industry in December 2015, Fuse began accepting orders for the products through the Internet and from morticians.

The ossuaries are available for 500,000 yen ($4,398) each on an online shopping website.

“I designed the urns in a manner so that they will match the interior of homes,” said Fuse.

As a memorial photo of the deceased person can be placed on the back of the lid of an ossuary, it can also be used as a “butsudan” home Buddhist altar if it is opened.

Fuse switched to a job at major toymaker Bandai Namco Holdings Inc. after working as a designer at an apparel company.

She developed briefs specially designed for women, which have proven so popular that 900,000 pairs have been sold.

Three years ago, Fuse introduced a new brand of funeral goods at a stationery and sundries company, where she was temporarily sent.

Fuse decided to make items used in funeral services after some of her friends died young in quick succession, including a 20 something colleague who passed away suddenly due to a brain hemorrhage.

At their funerals, they were wrapped in white shrouds and their ashes were put in plain white urns.

Fuse felt those conventional funeral goods and ceremonies do not enable attendees to understand what the deceased people were like while they were alive, and that there could be a better way to commemorate them.

“I want to wear clothing I like after I die,” she said. “I hope my ashes will be placed in an urn whose design is preferable for me.”

Fuse thought the decorated ossuaries could become a hit when hearing women who were just about the same age or slightly older than her saying “Cute” and “I want it” at the business fair.

She has since marketed various urns, such as one resembling a cosmetic bottle designed by a famous fashion designer as well as other kawaii urns priced between 30,000 yen and 80,000 yen.

“It was lovely,” said Ryoko Irie, a cooking expert in Yokohama, referring to a cosmetic bottle-like urn she bought.

Irie said she felt she is approaching her end when she turned 50. That is because more than 10 friends died over the last 10 years.

One of those friends was unmarried just like Irie and found dead alone at home.

“I thought I had to think of my last moment by myself,” Irie said. “I decided I wanted to have my ashes put in such a cute urn.”

Currently, Fuse is making efforts to develop ossuaries featuring animated characters. The move is aimed at providing urns for parents who lost small children so that they can keep their offspring’s ashes with characters the infants liked.

Although there are high hurdles to using animated characters for goods associated with people’s deaths, Fuse said she will “change the trend gradually.”

A sample urn featuring Rody, an Italian horselike character for toys, has recently been created, marking the first step toward realizing Fuse’s dream.

“The (funeral) industry will drastically change in 10 years,” Fuse said. “I want to make it (the development of urns) my life’s work.”