The Man Who Did Not Want to Die

In Japanese folklore there is a story of a man named Sentaro who did not want to die. He was quite a wealthy man and lived a life of luxury and idleness. However, he became quite preoccupied with the idea of dying, and after hearing old tales from China about a land where the elixir of life could be found, he decided to set out in search of it.

Torii Kiyomitsu, ca. 1761
He travelled far and wide looking for hermits who would have the elixir, but to no avail. He came to a Shrine and spent seven days praying there to the god Jofuku, who was said to be the patron of the lands containing the elixir of life. Finally Jofuku appeared to Sentaro and lectured him about how selfish he had been in life and said he could never live as a hermit.

'Shrine' - Ogata Gekko, 1892

Instead, he sent him to the country of Perpetual Life. To get there Sentaro was given a paper crane which grew in size and carried him across the sea to this new land. Once there, Sentaro learned that no one ever died in this place. As a result, they all longed to travel to the land of death, believing it was a blissful utopia.

From 'Japanese Folktales'

The inhabitants of the Land of Perpetual Life ate poisons in an attempt to shorten their lives, but they had no success. Sentaro decided to accept his fate and enjoy his eternal life in this new place. However, after 300 years he grew bored. He retrieved his paper crane and left to return to his home thinking death wouldn’t be so bad after all.

'The Isle of Eternal Life' - Kitagawa Utamaro, 1794

On his way, when he was flying over the ocean, there was a terrible storm and the paper crane got wet causing him to fall into the sea. Immediately he was fearful of death and called out to Jofuku to save him from the circling sharks. His wailing and crying woke him from a dream and he found himself still at the Shrine where he had been praying.

Kawase Hasui, 1931

A messenger of Jofuku arrived to say that the god had shown him in a dream what eternal life was like, and that he should give up his quest for the elixir of life and go home to live a productive life instead. Sentaro took this advice and returned home leaving his vanity and selfishness behind him.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi
'Sentaro' – unknown, ca 1811
'Landscape: Hermit's Hut under Trees' - Suzuki Shonen
'Four Hermits' - Yashima Gakutei
'Crane' – Bakufu Ohno, 1953

Katsushika Hokusai, 1831