If you’re one of those that believe culture and tradition isn’t the make for a viable business model, think twice. From past to present, religion has been an inseparable campus that guided us through the cliffs troughs and peaks. Religion has been the backbone of our belief system and therefore our way of life. Official representatives of the corresponding religion have aided both the faithful and the not so much with sacred rituals and ceremonies that govern the community from the very beginning, to today. However, as the universal law goes, that nothing is as certain as change and decay, nor is anything ever as perpetual as it may seem; the wisdom holds for religion as well, no exception. In the era of motley individual perceptions and values, culture and behavior has changed in Japan, from frequent congregations and a bonding sense of Buddhism-community, to sermons with sparse attendance. To grasp the big picture, there are 75,000 Buddhist temples in Japan, most located upcountry. Some are closing-down as donation contributions, alone, no longer sustains.
Given the circumstances, in conjunction with Minrevi Co. Ltd, Amazon has come up with an idea to offer a new service called “Obo-san bin”, or “Mr. Monk Delivery”, on its website in Japan. The service is one-stop, including the traditional process of “Nimon”; or submitting a formal request to have monk(s) visit a particular location for ceremonial purposes, as well as remuneration and transportation for the travelling monks both to the destination and from-back to the address of origination which is usually the monks’ temple. The donation-contribution (remuneration) part of the tradition usually goes without saying or implicit in practice as, technically; monks are not allowed to request or accept money, not without a meaningful purpose at least (often an awkward moment for all parties involved). The middle path delivery packages start at 35,000 yen (about $300s), where the Premium option is priced at 45,000 yen and 55,000 yen, respective to ceremonial and customer requirements. To put things in perspective, according to AP, contacting a temple’s admin office directly for service would cost on the upwards of 100,000 yen (or around $830s). Point being, this a win-win deal for both the temple and civil Buddhists alike.
Minrevi affirmed the service to be cost-effective for religious ceremonial customers while the same token provides a solution to otherwise searching for available qualifying monks on their own. From religious perspectives, the new service from Amazon should come to the rescue for concerns of waning donations. With 24/7 customer support service, Obo-san bin has bridged the distancing gap between Buddha’s teaching and the generation of busy millennials. All of a sudden, not only are the precept preachers accessible online, they are on one of the world’s most advanced channels for the new sharing economy, regardless distance. The monks have gained immense popularity in Japan as customer service responds to people in need in real time with advice and help, such as clients in pain and mourning the loss of loved ones, thus, not in the frame of mind to assess ceremonial options accurately. All in all, the service has turned out to be a viable solution to a market niche, in unexpected ways.
Since Mr. Monk Delivery’s service commencement, the Buddhist Council of Japan has issued a statement criticizing the provision of such services to protect the practice of the local temples. Amazon has not made any comment on the statement except clarifying that it is simply renting out cyber space to Minrevi, which is obviously using the channel to promote the service in question, and thus, hopes the mass find the service a useful venue that makes an aspect of their lives, easier. 20,000 yen is the fee charged for the Posthumous Buddhist Title, an honorary postmortem name given to aristocrats, nobles and sometimes others in Eastern Asia, according to Wikipedia; not the total cost of the funeral. Many monks have come to believe that such a service can even improve the likelihood of streamlining Buddhism with mainstream practices since it has become easily accessible to the majority of Japanese.
To many’s surprise, the service has expanded three-fold in the past year, with wide access through the internet and gone-viral sharing clips through social media. Over 400 monks nationwide have been registered as a service provider. Nevertheless, whether Amazon is providing a long-term win-win market mechanism for all parties involved is yet to be seen. One thing we have learned from the logistics guru, though, is that the flexibility to quickly adjust to emerging market niches and customer demands – fetches fortune, infortuitously.
Reference and pictures by forbes.com,qz.com, mashable.com, amazonadviser.com, flickr.com>>Account Pro Name:Nobuhiro Suhara