Sometimes the world seems eternal; sometimes the end looms black and near. We moderns know the apocalyptic mood well, having survived Dec. 21, 2012, in spite of an ancient Mayan "prediction" of doom on that date, but, facing as we do numerous other portents of extinction — climate change, environmental rot, political and moral chaos — we resist extravagant relief, no doubt wisely.

In Japan, the world began ending in 1052, the seventh year of the Eisho era.

Buddhist theology had given mankind ample warning. The Buddha's death (circa 483 B.C.) would be followed by three distinct epochs: a golden age of the True Law (Shoho), a lesser age of the Imitative Law (Zoho), and finally the dread Latter Days of the Law (Mappo) — when, wrote a ninth-century Japanese cleric, "there will be none to keep the Buddha's commandments ... if there are any such they will be as rare as tigers in the marketplace."