Gov't ministry offers virtual visits to ancestral graves amid pandemic

Gov't ministry offers virtual visits to ancestral graves amid pandemic

Seen is an example of an online memorial site created at “eSky Funeral Information System,” a virtual memorial platform developed by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korean Funeral Culture and Policy Institute in 2020. Screenshot from eSky Funeral Information System

By Lee Hae-rinVirtual memorial services that enable “seongmyo,” a visit to one’s ancestral graves ahead of the Chuseok holiday, is taking root here as the pandemic rolls on. The Ministry of Health and Welfare has provided the online memorial service at “eSky funeral information system” since last September, as a means to follow strictly the social distancing protocol in place during one of the country’s two traditional holidays, the other being the Lunar New Year.ESky is a free online memorial platform jointly developed by the ministry and the Korean Funeral Culture and Policy Institute (KFCP), where people can create a virtual memorial space and share it with other family members via social media.So far, ahead of the three-day holiday that runs from this coming Monday to Wednesday, over 133,600 people have accessed the website to set up virtual memorials during the first two weeks of September, amounting to over 5,100 daily users, according the ministry. The ministry added that the number of actual online participants could be greater. Normally, only one member of the family joins the website and then shares the virtual space with the entire family.The online memorial platform made several improvements based on user feedback from the two previous traditional holiday seasons. Users can now personalize the memorial sites with images, voice recordings and videos, and customize ritual tables with a greater variety of dishes, while chatting with other family members via the memorial platform. “Online grave visits have provided families and relatives with a new place to gather. We hope that the virtual memorial system establishes itself as yet another custom in Korea’s funeral culture after the end of the pandemic,” Ko Kyung-suk, the director of the KFCP, said in an interview with a media outlet. In response to the current social distancing measures in place during this fourth wave of the coronavirus, all 11 national cemeteries will be closed by the Ministry of Patriots and Veteran Affairs, while local municipalities, including Seoul and Incheon, either are limiting the number of memorial participants or closing their cemetery facilities during the Chuseok holiday.

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