As Japan celebrates the Obon festival (Aug. 13th to 15th) this year, when the spirits of ancestors are believed to visit the family home, many Japanese people's thoughts are turning to family members who have passed away.

Remembering the dearly departed, however, isn't limited to Japan. We can all relate to the fact that our loved ones often return to us, if only in memory, in fleeting moments of our daily lives.

Manga artist Kojiro (@Kojiro337) drew a manga about a woman who was "reunited" with a lost loved one in an unexpected place.

The encounter happened in a way that is only possible in our increasingly technologically-mediated lives and representative of a phenomenon that will only continue to become prominent in the years to come.

Reproduced with permission from Kojiro (@Kojiro337)

Some types of games allow players to create avatars in their own likeness.

In a video game that she was fascinated with as a child, a woman encountered the avatar of a loved one who was no longer with her.

When the woman saw the avatar, memories she had of spending fun times playing the game together with her rushed back. She lit a stick of incense at the family altar where her portrait was displayed. At that moment, she must have surely "felt" her spirit's presence.

The manga, inspired by a popular video game, went viral, garnering nearly 150,000 likes at the time of writing. It also elicited numerous comments, such as:

  • "I have my grandpa in my game too!"
  • "Seeing all the family members as avatars in the game makes it clear that this is a family that gets along well..."
  • "This made me cry..."

The cartoon was published on August 13th, 2022, the first day of the Obon season when Japanese families traditionally welcome their ancestors' spirits into their home.

Perhaps it wasn't a coincidence that the woman found the video game console in her closet and played that game. It may have been her lost love one's way of reuniting with her for Obon.

Beginning with video games and even more so as we explore the metaverse, a growing number of people are living parts of their lives through their avatars. But when the human behind the avatar passes away, what happens to them? Once the stuff of science fiction, such considerations are beginning to have repercussions in reality.

At present, it's not possible to "upload" your consciousness into an avatar but there has already been a case of an AI-operated avatar in the popular virtual social media platform VR Chat. Amazon also recently showed off a feature in which Alexa mimics the voices of your deceased loved ones. Ethical considerations aside, it may one day be possible to have an avatar "learn" how to act like a living person and continue to do so even beyond the lifespan of the human it was modeled after.

Will Japanese families one day "reunite" with their loved ones for Obon in a private corner of the metaverse? Only time will tell...

By - grape Japan editorial staff.