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, in pain and in an assisted-living residence, or do you just want to ''pop off?'' In Japan, there's a temple devoted to ''popping off,'' or "pokkuri" in Japanese.
I recently ran this concept by the celebrated and cerebral American film critic Roger Ebert, 67 -- who knows a thing or two about death and dying, and living and life. 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 means to ''pop off'' in one's sleep, of a 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: Yeah, no muss, no fuss."
It's true, that 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. According to the Economist magazine, more and more temples in Japan are now getting on the "pokkuri" bandwagon, some for holy reasons, some for financial gain.
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.
Maybe "pokkuri" is a good concept to borrow from the Japanese, I thought, as I posted my first blog comment about it 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 is located in Ikaruga-cho in Nara Prefecture, between Osaka and Tokyo. 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.
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 Ebert. A wit 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 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? "God, grant us a good life, a useful (and meaningful) life, and when it's time, let us 'pokkuri' in a dignified, discreet way."
Dan Bloom is a freelance writer based in Taiwan.© Japan Today