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
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
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
"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?