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Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician
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Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  84 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews
This story looks at one man's very personal struggle to engage his Shin Buddhist faith to make sense of his experiences with the dead and dying. Shinmon Aoki is forced by extreme financial circumstances into a job in one of the most despised professions in Japanese society, that of the nokanfu, one who washes and prepares dead bodies for burial. Shunned by family and frien ...more
Paperback, 142 pages
Published April 1st 2004 by Buddhist Education Center (first published July 1996)
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Shinmon Aoki writes about his job as a Shin Buddhist mortician. He explains how death is a taboo subject and working with the dead is frowned up and dishonorable.
He explains the different beliefs of Shin Buddhism, especially about their belief in death and afterlife. Aoki includes beautiful poetry and the way he wrote was just as poetical.
There are three sections and overall it is a short book. I did enjoy it but I lost a bit of interest in the end. I think this is the first book of a Morticia
Michael-Ann Cerniglia
This review was originally written for the NCTA Teacher Materials Database.

Coffinman, by Shinmon Aoki, is the memoir of a Shin Buddhist mortician. This short, albeit deeply philosophical, work is broken into three parts: “The Season of Sleet,” “What Dying Means,” and “The Light and Life.” The first two parts reflect on Aoki’s experiences preparing bodies for burial. Through these experiences, which are paired with beautiful poetry, he reveals threads of Buddhist beliefs, which are eventually wo
Jasy Au
Aug 30, 2009 is currently reading it
Watched the movie. The movie brought back a lot of memories to me. Hope to get hold of a copy to read.
Sep 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
This one is well outside my traditional milieu, but well worth the time and patience to experience Aoki's unique worldview shaped by his work as a Buddhist mortician.

Any comments I add here about Buddhism, the Inconceivable Light, or Aoki's inferences or interpretations would fail to capture the serenity of his words, so I'll share two passages:

"If you go into your line of work thinking it inferior, as you perform your duties, it shows that you beat within yourself a feeling of inferiority. You
AJ Dreadfulwater
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: thinkers
An intriguing account of thoughts from a Buddhist mortician...on Life....and Death....and the space, or the Light, in between.

Some thoughts may be lost in translation from Japanese to English, but "once you've got the gist of it, there's no need to read into every little thing, the workings...." of the Light.
For the most part, enlightening. COFFINMAN is less a daily journal, reflecting on death, and more a series of seasonal treatises, observing Shinmon Aoki's life and profession as a journal unto death itself.

Aoki's personal encounters with the dead, dying, and mourning conjure an array of profound imagery and critical thinking surrounding the modern functions of religion/mythology, the human conflict of beginning and end, and the role of contemporary Buddhist comprehension. The discourse of COFFIN
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a beautiful, emotional book that helped me look at life, death, and my connections to other people in a new way. The book is composed of non-linear episodes during Shinmon Aoki's career as an encoffiner in northern Japan which lead him to develop new perspectives and a profound appreciation for life and death. In addition to presenting the episodes themselves, the author also spends a lot of time discussing how his experiences and ideas are similar to those found in several Japanese poem ...more
John Fredrickson
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spiritual, zen
Starts off as a very unusual book written from the standpoint of a mortician, but with a Zen flavor. It is absolutely worth a read, probably a re-read as well. By the end of the book, it becomes much more of an exploration of our attitudes to death. A section towards the end that discusses poets and poetry, is the only part o the book that I struggled with, as it doesn't feel right - the rest of the book is engaging and informative.
Apr 24, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition



Jenna Kathleen
Mar 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
5* for the first half and 3* for the second half.

The first half was really interesting. Aoki told personal stories from his professional experience, with a little bit of philosophical input here and there. While the second half had its moments, it was pretty dry as it was all Buddhist philosophy. Overall, Aoki's story is fascinating if you have prior knowledge of Japanese religion.
Aug 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
This really is a pretty fantastic book up until the last section when the author gets pretty deep into philosophy and Buddhist religion...then it gets harder to follow and a little less interesting. The first half of the book though is worth the price of the whole thing.
Aug 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, informative, and unexpectedly uplifting. Having attended a Hindu funeral recently, I was surprised (though in retrospect it makes sense) to learn about the numerous similarities between the rituals, customs, and general views on death in Hinduism and Shin Buddhism.
Feb 05, 2015 rated it liked it
I picked the middle rating because I am uncertain about the translation. I am wondering if the translator captured the author's mood and Japanese culture subtleties. The story felt very indifferent and unemotional. It didn't make me think, so it was an easy book to put down.
Dec 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: inspirations
Not a light read, for sure, but very engaging. It's about a mortician, examining life and after life. Some of the ideas are very original and really resonate.
Jul 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
A simply written, unique and powerful memoir. I loved the personal narration but I got a bit lost in the philosophizing at the end--for my taste it could have been cut down by 30%.
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Shinmon Aoki (Japanese: 青木 新門) ) is a Japanese writer and poet. He is best known for his memoirs Coffinman:The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician, published in 1993. The book was based on his diaries during a period in which he worked as a mortician in the 1970s, a profession which is traditionally regarded as a taboo in Japan due to their perception of death. In 2008 his memoirs were made into a suc ...more
More about Shinmon Aoki...
“In fact, no form of death places a greater burden on society than suicide, for the act of suicide is the way a person seeks to resolve his alienation from a cooperative society.” 1 likes
“When you die, you want to die a beautiful death. But what makes for a beautiful death is not always clear. To die without suffering, to die without causing trouble to others, to die leaving behind a beautiful corpse, to die looking good -- it's not clear what is meant by a beautiful death. Does a beautiful death refer to the way you die or the condition of your corpse after death? This distinction is not clear. And when you start to stretch the image of death to the method of how to dispose of your corpse as befitting your image of death, everything grows completely out of hand.” 1 likes
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