Sunday, May 30, 2010

Praying for a Pokkuri Moment: No Muss, No Fuss

by Danny Dan Daniel Bloom

When it's time to meet your Maker, do you want to hang in there as
long as possible, even if you are bed-ridden and in pain and in an
assisted-living residence, or do you just want to ''pop off''? In
Japan, there's a temple in devoted to ''popping off,'' which in
Japanese is called ''pokkuri''.

I recently ran this concept by the celebrated and cerebral film critic
Roger Ebert -- who knows a thing or two about death and dying, and
living and life! -- and after reading my note he tweeted on Twitter:
"...'Pokkuri' -- the Japanese word for popping off suddenly. There's
even a Pokkuri goddess."

I had casually mentioned in a comment on Mr Ebert's blog that he might
want to know about the Japanese concept of pokkuri, which literally
means to ''pop off'' in one's sleep or in sudden heart attack in bed
or outside while walking around the neighborhood, a painless, quiet
and serene death. He liked the term, apparently, noting on his blog:
"I googled the term and found your own blog on Open Salon:
http://j.mp/apcFFR. Yeah, no muss, no fuss."

It's true, in Japan, every year, thousands of elderly people visit
Kichidenji Temple in Nara Prefecture where they pray for a pokkuri
death — preferably during sleep or a sudden heart attack — so they are
not a burden on their families during their final days. I lived in
Japan for five years in the 1990s, and while I never made it to this
celebrated temple, I read a news report
about it five years ago.

The Kichidenji Temple was established in 987 by a monk whose mother
had passed away peacefully wearing clothes that he had prayed over. As
time passed, a new Japanese tradition took shape, and now elderly
people visit Kichidenji to pray for a discreet and quick passing.
Although most of the visitors and supplicants are Japanese, foreigners
often visit the temple as well, mostly out of curiosity, and the
blogosphere is lit up here and there with photographs of the temple
and maps on how to get there.

The word caught my attention: ''pokkuri'', to pop off. Maybe pokkuri
is a good concept to borrow from the Japanese, I thought, as I posted
my first blog comment about the concept a few years ago, intoning this
brief prayer: "God, grant me a good life, a useful (and meaningful)
life, and when it's time, let me 'pokkuri' in a dignified, discreet
way. Amen."

Kichidenji Temple, I've since learned, is located in Ikaruga-cho, not
Nara City, although it is in Nara Prefecture in between Osaka and
Tokyo. A friend of mine used to live a couple of minutes away from it.
He told me that a lot of the visitors first visit the more famous
Horyuji Temple (about ten minutes away) and then make their way to
Kichidenji.

Here's a link: www.town.ikaruga.nara.jp/ikaho/e/guide/guide.html


According to the temple's chief priest, pilgrims making their way to
the temple will chant a holy phrase and beat a wooden block, which
makes popping sounds (thus the term ''to pop off''). I am not making
any of this up. Roger Ebert knows exactly what I am talking about: "No
muss, no fuss."

After his tweet, some of Ebert's followers chimed in with their
reactions to this Japanese loan word.

"Those crazy Japanese! What will they think of next?" one person told Mr Ebert.

A wit, and there is always a wit on the Internet, commented: "I
thought 'pokkuri' was about premature ejaculation, for a moment
there."

"I thought you were getting vulgar," said another person. "The boomers
will get to know it & pray 4 it w the future of health care."

And a philosopher of death countered with this reaction: "When pokkuri
happens in the middle of the night, a spouse or family is/are often
bereft of the chance to say goodbye."

So we're left with this: in Japan there is a temple devoted to popping
off, and the received word in Japanese is "pokkuri." In America, there
are no temples for popping off, and there is
no word for the concept in our common vocabulary.

But is it time now to borrow this word from Japan and make it our own?
Roger Ebert believes it could work here. I, do, too.

God, grant me a good life, a useful (and meaningful) life, and when
it's time, let me 'pokkuri' in a dignified, discreet way.

By the way, as a footnote, while the concept of praying for pokkuri comes out of Japan, I'm told that in Roman Catholic tradition, one can also pray for a happy death in another ancient and inherited tradition. According to legend, St. Joseph died in the arms of what Catholics refer to as the Blessed Mother and Jesus.

"What a way to go!" Alexandria Karako, of  San Antonio, Texas,  told me. "It is not uncommon among my co-religionists to think about death in those terms."




----------------

Dan Bloom is a freelance writer. His days are numbered. Are yours?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

And a philosopher of death countered with this reaction: "When pokkuri happens in the middle of the night, a spouse or family is/are often bereft of the chance to say goodbye."

Live every day as though you may die tomorro.

Anonymous said...

Am thinking of asking The AP for this pokkuri story.
Sent the information to AP Chicago bureau. David Carpenter there might be interested. See what he says.



PS I would really like to go pokkuri some day :-)

There is a famous haiku poet in JAPAN once who wrote:

''the grandparents die
the parents die
the children die''

People at the celebration were aghast that he would utter such a poem at the event, which was some kind of celebration of a child being born or something like that.
Then he said there can be no greater fortune than people dying in that order in a family and the greatest tragedy comes when that order is reversed.

Anonymous said...

or you could do it like the eskimos & just put your aged/infirm on an ice floe.
vzn


May 30, 2010 12:31 PM


Roger is one of my former colleagues at the Chicago Sun Times and a good friend who keeps up with my blog here, too. And there's precious little he doesn't "get," I have to tell ya'. That man has been one of the lights of my life for decades...

Keka
May 30, 2010 12:38 PM

dan said...

Condition as of 2010

As of February 2010, Roger Ebert has a full-time, live-in nurse attend to him when needed.

Although doctors have asked him to allow them to make one more attempt to restore his voice, Ebert has refused, indicating that he is done with surgery, and will also probably decline significant intervention even if his cancer returns, as he feels that the last procedure he underwent did more harm than good.

Regarding his death one day, he has written in a journal entry titled, "Go Gently into That Good Night":

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear.

I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path.

I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state.

What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting.

My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris....

BRAVO.

Anonymous said...

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/05/cannes_post-mortem_or_is_that.html#comment-939190

Anonymous said...

Jul 26th 2007 | TOKYO
From The Economist print edition

Japan's population is ageing fast and shrinking. That has implications for every institution, and may even decide the fate of governments

For intriguing evidence of the way Japan's 127 million people are greying faster than any others on earth, look at the boom in pokkuri dera. Pokkuri is an onomatopoeic word for a sudden bursting, while a tera or dera is a Buddhist temple. Pokkuri dera, then, are shrines where many of Japan's older people go to pray not only for the long life that they are increasingly coming to expect, but also for a quick and painless death at the end of it. Their visits have revived the fortunes of old-established temples, notably in the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara, while temples elsewhere have reinvented themselves as pokkuri dera with the financial blessings in mind.

Anonymous said...

Kichidenji Temple is located in the north of the village of Koyoshida near Ikaruga Town in Nara Prefecture. The temple is commonly referred to as Pokkuri Temple.

The Tenji Emperor ordered a grave to be built at this site for his sister, Hashihito-no-himemiko, and in the first year of the Eien period (987), Genshin built a temple here.

The name 'Pokkuri' ('drop dead') derives from the story that Genshin prayed to keep off evil spirits as his mother lay dying, so she could die without pain.

You should not miss the statue of seated Amida in one of the main buildings. It is about 4.85m tall and is the biggest wooden statue in Nara as well as a National Important Cultural Asset. It is said that if you pray in front of this statue, you will live longer.

The rare Taho pagoda, also in Nara, was built in the fourth year of the Kansei period (1463), and has been designated as an Important Cultural Asset.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dan,

Have just encountered your comments on my blog, as well as your Salon posting about 'pokkuri.'

My own introduction to the pokkuri word/concept was supplied several days ago by a dear friend who is a university librarian in Sibiu, Romania.

Marina had found a reference to pokkuri in a Western Michigan University article [ http://homepages.wmich.edu/~weinreic/GRN670/Japan/PokurriDera1.html ] and asked if I had ever heard of it.

Though I lived in Japan [Hokkaido, Honshu] for 5 years, this was many years ago and had never encountered the word/concept of 'pokkuri' at that time.

I see that you have had some serious heart issues, and was reminded of my own, which I posted about several years ago. [My heart attack even included a midnight ride on the back of a motorcycle.]

http://jingreed.typepad.com/jingreeds_musings_from_th/2006/12/midnight_motorc.html

Pokkuri as a concept, to the best of my knowledge, doesn't seem to exist here in Thailand.

However I do not claim to be an expert of Thai culture and traditions. If anything, the decade I have lived here continually demonstrates how little I really understand Thailand and the Thai culture.

Regards,

Gordon Christy-Stefanik
Chiang Mai

Nonniq said...

In Roman Catholic tradition one prays for a happy death. St. Joseph died in the arms of the Blessed Mother and Jesus. What a way to go! It is not uncommon to think about death in those terms.

dan said...

Nonniq, thansk for this!

Very interesting. May I add this to my oped piece? May I give credit to you for relaying the info to me, how shall i credit you? leave note here. DANNY

re: something like this ; ADD?

While the concept of praying for pokkuri comes out of Japan, I'm told that in Roman Catholic tradition, one prays for a happy death in another inherited tradition. According to legend, St. Joseph died in the arms of what Catholics refer to as the Blessed Mother and Jesus.

"What a way to go!" a modern-dau Catholic told me.

Anonymous said...

While the concept of praying for pokkuri comes out of Japan, I'm told that in Roman Catholic tradition, one prays for a happy death in another inherited tradition. According to legend, St. Joseph died in the arms of what Catholics refer to as the Blessed Mother and Jesus.

"What a way to go!" a modern-day Catholic told me. "It is not uncommon among my co-religionists to think about death in those terms."

Anonymous said...

it's rather pointless to worry about how humans will adapt 500 yrs from now.....or even 100......the people best suited for THOSE decisions will be the folks aive in those moments......Rome didn't fall overnight....and never completely dissapeared.

in 1 billion yrs Earth will be too hot for liquid water.....even at the poles !

Anonymous said...

John Becker said: "I think people all over the world generally wish for a quick, painless death, if they think about it at all. I'm not certain that we need a single word, borrowed or otherwise, to describe this sentiment.

*Unless and *until a word and its accompanying concept *organically gain exposure and comprehension in other cultures, I don't think any amount of *single-handed promotion can make it happen."

DANNY REPLIES: WELL SAID. I AGREE!


Tessa said on June 14

''I agree with John Becker above. It's just not something that the average healthy person thinks about on a daily basis, or needs to.

By the way, have you noticed that the English language has an extraordinarily large number of euphemisms for death? Popped his clogs, bought the farm, kicked the bucket are a few that come to mind. Really fascinating.''