Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician by Shinmon Aoki

coffinmanFunny enough, I just came across this book as we were discarding it from our collection. It’s ironic considering that I just finished a novel about a mortician (see following post). It is an interesting contrast to the way we handle corpses and death in our society and how they handle it in modern Japan. Aoki has had vast experiences from village to city and he is frequently called in by police after investigations to take away the bodies. He propounds upon the modern Japanese view of death in comparison to life.

His own ideas of death and life are shaped by his career (which is considered unclean and shameful in Japan). He notes his extreme sadness as a bucket of water provided for him by a village elder to clean his hands is dumped against a bamboo tree and a blue dragonfly, full of eggs, drowns in the water. In spite of being in a household full of grieving relatives and villagers, the thing that touched him the most was the potential of the dragonfly so abruptly ended.

If anything, the book is an interesting contrast between Eastern and Western ideas and an insight into Buddhist thought. The endnotes were not overly enlightening, as they merely repeated the same things that you easily got in context within the sentence.

I still am just astounded by the coincidence of finding this book after reading Tethered, a novel about a female American mortician. Coffinman is an interesting book, with a lot of Buddhist ideas interspersed, which assumes a prior knowledge of not only Buddhism but the various sects of Buddhism which exist in Japan. I know a very little about Buddhism, through yoga practice, but I didn’t let myself get confused by the details and just tried to extract the overall view. If you are not interested in Buddhism, I also recommend reading this book just for Aoki’s experiences and skipping his propounding of Buddhist thought. Either way, the book is worth reading. For our patrons, since we just deleted the book from the collection, you’ll have to either Interlibrary Loan a copy through us or just ask me if you’d like to borrow it.

-contributed by staffer Shannon Wertzberger (@avalonlibrary)

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