This project was the design of a nokotsudo, or ossuary hall, located on the grounds of Myorenji Temple in the city of Oita, Oita Prefecture.

Such buildings offer an alternative to cemeteries and house small spaces—often locker-style spaces with small altars—that serve as repositories for cinerary urns. In recent years, the demand for ossuaries in Japan has been surging as factors such as a shrinking population, rural-to-urban migration, and the decline of extended families make it increasingly difficult for people to care for and maintain traditional graves at cemeteries on the grounds of local temples. The design of a memorial space that accounts for immediate needs and long-term considerations in Japanese society offers a practical solution to this problem.

Engaging in dialogues with our client, the temple’s head priest, we set out to design a space that would comfort bereaved family members—a far cry from the dark, warehouse-like spaces characteristic of typical ossuaries. We settled upon a design that would embody the concept of “guest rooms for the departed”—a bright, welcoming space more evocative of a hotel or luxury inn. Our chosen name for the facility, Prabha, is taken from ancient Indian scripture, where it signifies “light.”

A distinguishing feature of the design is the “Garden of Silence,” a dry landscape garden with a pine tree and rocks arranged in an exquisitely balanced composition. The rocks come from within the temple grounds, deepening the garden’s connection to the site’s heritage, while the carefully selected Japanese white pine perfectly complements the location. Visitors are invited to relax on comfortable lounge chairs in a semi-open space that looks out onto the garden, enveloped in the serene atmosphere while cherishing memories of their departed loved ones. White plaster walls and extensive use of wood feature prominently in the interior design, and the Buddhist altar was made crimson rather than the standard black, evoking the light of the Western Pure Land and the hue of the setting sun.

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Our work on the project included making a number of improvements to the temple grounds. We verified that the main hall (built around 1750), main gate, bell tower, and priests’ quarters all meet the requirements of the current building code. Additionally, we relocated a stone monument. The new ossuary seamlessly integrates with such traditional structures on the temple grounds. The building is both aesthetically pleasing and barrier-free, with functional elements including automatic doors, an air-conditioning system, and an elevator. The Prabha design both showcases and enhances a traditional architectural style, and the completed project embodies the concept of “old meets new” at the core of our company’s ideology.

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