In early July, seven men and women gathered over coffee and snacks at a Buddhist temple in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward to discuss death.
Over two hours, the talk ranged from how to reduce fear of death and cope with a loved one's passing to living out one's days fruitfully.
The event was a "Death Cafe," a nonprofit get-together set up to increase people's awareness of death and help them make the most of life.
A Death Cafe is not a counseling session or grief support group. It brings together people, often strangers, to help familiarize them with life's end.
"No specific agenda is set here. All we do is talk about death," Tatsuya Sakamoto, who organized the event in the main hall of Shineiji Temple, told the other participants at the outset of the session.
"Perhaps you will be able to clarify what you think about death by putting it into words," said Sakamoto, a 59-year-old music producer.
After Sakamoto broke the ice, each of the other six, who had found out about the event mainly through social media, began to talk about his or her own thoughts on death.
Of different ages and backgrounds, they had a variety of reasons for attending.
"After I lost my husband, I began to think of my own death," one woman said.
Another participant, a graduate school student, talked about death in scientific terms, while a medical worker discussed having to face patients dying on a daily basis.
A woman in her 40s still regrets not spending more time with her grandmother in her final days, more than 10 years ago. "I should have worked less," she said.
A woman in her 50s, single and with no children, said, "I came here to explore how I should live out the rest of my days, rather than how I should die."
Death Cafe originated with Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, who developed the concept of the "Cafe Mortel" in 2004 following his wife's death.
Based on the idea, the first Death Cafe is said to have been held around 2011 in London, spawning a worldwide movement spread by social media. Now, thousands of Death Cafes are held in some 40 countries.
In Japan, the movement took off in cities such as Sendai, Kyoto and Fukuoka.
Before opening his first Death Cafe in April 2016, Sakamoto volunteered as a grief counselor, supporting people who lost family in the March 2011 disaster in northeastern Japan, and hospice patients close to death.
Masatoshi Shoji, a 49-year-old translator, organized a Death Cafe in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, following his wife's death from illness.
Although he felt a deep sense of loss, he had no one he could turn to cope with his grief. It was then that he encountered a Death Cafe, where he was able to express his thoughts and feelings without hesitation.
This motivated him to start his own cafe. In doing so, he introduced rules to make the gathering meaningful for all participants. One of these is not to challenge what other people say.
Tea, coffee and snacks are seen as essential elements of a Death Cafe, as they help to foster a supportive, congenial atmosphere. Shoji has added musical performances and poetry recitals to make the event even more comfortable and relaxing.
"People tend to feel isolated if they have worries -- regardless of whether these are philosophical issues or sorrows related to someone's death," Shoji said. "They may feel relieved if they find a place to talk frankly."
Opportunities for people to see death close up and to gain solace from religion are decreasing as more people die in hospital and funeral services are increasingly simplified, said Masahiko Miura, deputy chief priest of Shineiji Temple.
"People cannot avoid death -- both the death of those close to them and their own. Having a candid exchange of views at a Death Cafe and listening to what others think about death may help them to recognize what death means for each person," said Miura.