Buddhist vocab in Japanese everyday use, part 2

As long-time readers may have noticed, I like tracking examples of Buddhist terms in common Japanese-vernacular, and recently I stumbled upon another while reading the little manga book on keigo. In one example scene, Chibi Marukochan’s mom is talking to her dad about someone who passed away recently and leads to a little conversation:

Dad: 高橋さん百歳でお亡くなりになったんだ。
(takahashisan hyakusai de onakunari ni nattanda
Mr Takahashi passed away at 100)

Mom: 大往生ね。
(daiōjō ne)

Maruko: 大往生って何?
(daiōjō tte nani? What is daiōjō ?)

Grandpa: 思い残すことなく安らかに亡くなることじゃよ
(omoinokosu koto naku yasurakani naku naru koto ja yo
It’s when you can die peacefully without regret.)

But the word 大往生 really caught my attention. The term ōjō (往生) is familiar because it’s the Buddhist term for rebirth in a Buddha’s Pure Land, usually the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha. So the dai (大) just means “great”. Yet the term, corroborated by online dictionary, nowadays means a peaceful death.

As with other Buddhist terms, as they become vernacular they lose the religious element somewhat, probably the same way Judaeo-Christian terms do in English. But the cultural significance is still there. :-)

P.S. The same page also taught the term ご愁傷様でございます (goshūōsama de gozaimasu) which is something polite and respectful to someone whose lost a loved one recently. Just an FYI.

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7 Comments on “Buddhist vocab in Japanese everyday use, part 2”

  1. Morris says:

    In Taiwan, ‘ojo’ has become known as the alternate way to term ‘death’. I think it is something to do with euphemism, and the influence from Buddhism.

  2. Doug says:

    Yeah, I believe you’re right. It’s clearly a euphemism, just as in English we say “pass away”, not “die” out of respect. There’s various other Christian-based euphemisms in English too for this. Interesting though how religion and culture can mix like that on such important aspects of life (and death). :)

  3. Stephen says:

    The problem is (I know I have mentioned it before), but the term looses it’s original meaning and then gains different meanings which go against the original term. My Japanese dictionary gives this common usage of ojo
    ressha ga yuki de tachi ojo suru
    Meaning that the train stopped between stations because of snow.
    Ojo which used to have a positive meaning in the Buddhist term and the example you give above now has a negative meaning.
    Still I don’t pretend I can stop the evolution of language, I mean how many people know Ketchup is from Chinese???

  4. Doug says:

    Ketchup is from Chinese language? That’s a new one to me. :p

    The corruption of religious terms is unfortunate in a way, but the same could be said by folks of other religions too. I guess it’s just the natural change of things.

  5. Stephen says:

    Reading from my dictionary – ketchup app. from Chinese ke-tsiap brine of pickled fish, so I think the Chinese would be equally surprised at what we call ketchup (or what I call tomato sauce).
    Still there are phrases which have made it into everyday use without loss of meaning. Example
    With one mind and without confusion
    Straight out of the Amida Sutra.

  6. Doug says:

    Wow, I had no idea. :D How brine of pickled fish became tomato sauce is beyond me, though I could see how some intermediary step they two could be mixed. I think an Indonesian friend of mine once showed me Malay-style ketchup which was a mix of tomato sauce and maybe soy sauce. Can’t recall.

    I know 一心不乱, but wasn’t aware of its Buddhist connotations! Ha ha ha. I’ll update a certain blog post coming up, as it’s worth calling out. Thanks!

  7. Rory says:

    I didn’t know ketchup was Chinese, just the Malaysian version, which is delicious, it is that mix Doug.

    As regards Ojo, does anyone even really pay attention to the meaning of Christmas? I doubt it, those of us outside of Japan are fortunate in that regard as the word isn’t degraded. But then I’ve seen people wearing ‘lucky beads’ (a wrist mala) in Ireland who had no clue..*sigh*

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