Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey

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Overview

How does one cope with overwhelming grief? Marie Mutsuki Mockett's family owns a Buddhist temple 25 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In March 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami, radiation levels prohibited the burial of her Japanese grandfather's bones. As Japan mourned thousands of people lost in the disaster, Mockett also grieved for her American father, who had died unexpectedly.Seeking consolation, Mockett is guided by a colorful cast of Zen priests and ordinary Japanese who perform ...

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Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey

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Overview

How does one cope with overwhelming grief? Marie Mutsuki Mockett's family owns a Buddhist temple 25 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In March 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami, radiation levels prohibited the burial of her Japanese grandfather's bones. As Japan mourned thousands of people lost in the disaster, Mockett also grieved for her American father, who had died unexpectedly.Seeking consolation, Mockett is guided by a colorful cast of Zen priests and ordinary Japanese who perform rituals that disturb, haunt, and finally uplift her. Her journey leads her into the radiation zone in an intricate white hazmat suit; to Eiheiji, a school for Zen Buddhist monks; on a visit to a Crab Lady and Fuzzy-Headed Priest’s temple on Mount Doom; and into the "thick dark" of the subterranean labyrinth under Kiyomizu temple, among other twists and turns. From the ecstasy of a cherry blossom festival in the radiation zone to the ghosts inhabiting chopsticks, Mockett writes of both the earthly and the sublime with extraordinary sensitivity. Her unpretentious and engaging voice makes her the kind of companion a reader wants to stay with wherever she goes, even into the heart of grief itself.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

For Marie Mutsuki Mockett, public and private converged in the aftermath of the March 2011 Japanese earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Mourning her Japanese grandfather and the recent death of her American father, she realized that time-honored Japanese rituals placed her own grief and coping mechanisms in meaningful new contexts. Gentle and reflective, Where the Dead Pause & the Japanese Say Goodbye gracefully interweaves the exotic and the immediate. Editor's recommendation.

Publishers Weekly
10/20/2014
In her memoir, which takes place shortly after the To¯hoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, novelist Mockett (Picking Bones from Ash) embarks on a poignant spiritual journey through Japan, seeking solace after the death of her American father three years earlier and to bury her Japanese grandfather’s bones. Touching on themes of modernity and tradition, Mockett takes part in various religious customs to come to terms with her grief and understand her mixed-cultural heritage. Beautiful folklore like the story of Moon Princess or the celestial princess weaver Orihime imbue the book with a sense of mystery and authenticity. The author’s background as novelist is evident in her skilled descriptions of the changing seasons—the pink cherry blossoms of spring or the neon rice paddies in autumn—which combine with nuanced details of the nation’s struggle after the March disaster to provide an intimate snapshot of the island nation’s complex culture. Although Mockett’s upbringing gives the memoir the sense of an outsider looking in, at times the comparisons of Japan to the West weigh heavy on the narrative and can distract from the story. Agent: Irene Skolnick, Irene Skolnick Literary Agency. (Jan.)
Luis Alberto Urrea
“Marie Mockett has taken the most spectacular catastrophe of our era and used it to teach us astonishing things about faith, perseverance, and the mysteries of the soul. Her journey through personal grief and the devastation of Japan after the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster brings us into asacred space. With this book, Marie Mockettbrought me into the high drama of the tsunami, through her most personal landscape, and into the awe of the eternal.”
Gail Tsukiyama
“Richly layeredin culture and insight,Mockett takes us on acompelling and illuminating journey of the heart and soul.”
Ruth Ozeki
“This book speaks to my heart. Grief is part of what it means to be human, and Marie Mutsuki Mockett's book models an approach to grief, an attitude of courage, curiosity, and inquiry that is our birthright, as humans, wherever we happen to be born. Read it. You will be uplifted.”
Heidi W. Durrow
“A beautiful tale that is part evocative travelogue and part lyrical meditation on grief, this soulful and haunting book made me cry in a way I like to cry when reading a good book. Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye will resonate with anyone who has lost a loved one, a homeland, or a home and hoped for healing on the other side.”
Will Schwalbe
“What a remarkable and moving book about traveling from one land to another, and learning different ways of coming to terms with death amid life. Engrossing and powerful, it speaks volumes about the many ways people grieve and live.”
New York Times Book Review
“An intriguing… travelogue through a landscape of Japanese spiritual belief, with forays into history, folklore, and memoir. [Mockett] has the ability, fully available only to those on the margins, “to see through more than one set of eyes, if one learns to pay attention to one’s environment.” It is this gift of double-sightedness, of bringing to bear both the “dry” rationality of the West and the “sticky” sensibilities professed by the Japanese, that makes this the most interesting book so far to have come out of the disaster.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Mockett is the perfect translator for the ways East and West frequently miss each other, and these observations are one of the book’s many pleasures… a fascinating, wide-reaching exploration of the religious and cultural elements of this island nation.”
San Jose Mercury News
“This affecting memoir… effectively evokes the beauty of Japanese culture and the sorrow that swept the country in the tsunami’s wake.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Mockett skillfully knits together a portrait of loss and recovery, pulling together many individuals’ experience of grief into a collective search for peace.”
The Japan Times
“An illuminating journey into grief and Japanese culture, a place that few would dare to venture.”
Booklist
“Mockett’s involving and revelatory chronicle of Japanese spirituality in a time of crisis greatly enriches our perceptions of both a unique culture and the human longing for connection with the dead.”
Richard Lloyd Parry - New York Times Book Review
“An intriguing… travelogue through a landscape of Japanese spiritual belief, with forays into history, folklore, and memoir. [Mockett] has the ability, fully available only to those on the margins, “to see through more than one set of eyes, if one learns to pay attention to one’s environment.” It is this gift of double-sightedness, of bringing to bear both the “dry” rationality of the West and the “sticky” sensibilities professed by the Japanese, that makes this the most interesting book so far to have come out of the disaster.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Depicts a Japan both secular and spiritual, and a people whose apparent stoicism can be a bulwark against chaos.”
Library Journal
★ 12/01/2014
There is a rich cultural history on the interplay between Shinto, Japan's native religion, and Buddhism, which was officially introduced to the country in the sixth century. Mockett (Picking Bones from Ash) mixes memoir, travelog, and a study of the sociology of death to look at how the unique character of Japanese spirituality helps individuals and the nation cope with loss. The author's story begins with her family's Buddhist temple in Iwaki, a coastal city 25 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and takes the reader to the places where the dead gather in Japan, such as a Buddhist temple on Mount Koya and onward to Sai no Kawara, a riverbank where the souls of children congregate. VERDICT This illuminating journey through loss, faith, and perseverance will appeal to both readers of Pico Iyer and current nonfiction on death culture, such as Caitlin Doughty's Smoke Gets in your Eyes and Mary Roach's Stiff. The author's unique access to Buddhist priests gives the reader a rare view into one of the richest death cultures in the world. [See Prepub Alert, 7/28/14.]—John Rodzvilla, Emerson Coll., Boston
Kirkus Reviews
2014-10-20
A journey through Japanese culture and religion by a Japanese-American woman grieving for her dead father and concerned that she will be unable to pass on her heritage to her young son.Mockett (Picking Bones from Ash, 2009) returned to Japan after the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster, accompanied by her mother and her young son. After visiting the family-run temple located not far from the Fukushima nuclear reactor, the author made pilgrimages to other temples, met with priests, examined their treasures and tried out different forms of Buddhist meditation. Doing so provided her with the opportunity to not only describe, often at length, present-day people, buildings, festivals, places, moods and customs, but to delve into the stories behind them. One chapter is devoted to a history of Buddhism, in which readers may be surprised to learn that if they choose, Buddhists are quite free to celebrate one of the many Shinto gods. Because of the radiation danger at the cemetery in 2011, the bones of the author's grandfather could not be buried during that year's Obon, the annual Buddhist festival in which ancestors' spirits return to this world to visit their relatives. At the heart of the book is the Obon festival of 2012, a time when the author visited a crematorium for a close-up look at how the Japanese treat the remains of loved ones, attended the burial for her grandfather's bones, observed Obon's beautiful and healing rituals, and hoped that it would bring her relief from grief over the death of her father. Mockett, who speaks Japanese (though not perfectly), is an observant and respectful guide to Japanese customs, open to new experiences and sensitive to changes in the culture. If she sometimes rambles on or wanders off, the trip is still worth it.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393063011
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/19/2015
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 129,367
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s novel
Picking Bones from Ash was shortlisted for the 2010 Saroyan Prize and the
Asian American Literary Awards for Fiction and was a finalist for the Paterson
Prize. She lives in San Francisco.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 15, 2015

    Highly Recommended!

    A thoughtful and balanced glimpse into the complex attitudes the Japanese have toward the meaning of life, death and the afterlife. After losing her Japanese grandfather and her American father she struggles to find a way to move forward. Unable to find satisfactory answers in western society, she takes her search to her mother's homeland.

    I expected this to be a soul searching journey wallowing in misery but was very pleasantly surprised to find a wealth of multi-faceted glimpses into private and very personal aspects of Japanese life that would be impossible for anyone outside of Japan to encounter much less understand. She offers an unbiased look at the various sects of Buddhism throughout Japan and how they interact with each other and shape the lives of the people in very different ways.

    Her visits also coincided with the great earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 and span several years after this disaster, following the struggles of ordinary citizens to find meaning in senseless destruction and the fundamental changes this disaster has forced onto a very ancient culture. Buddhist priests of all sects are expanding their traditional roles and learning new ways to help their communities find new ways to cope and move forward.

    This is a beautifully crafted work that reveals touching insights into what it means to be Japanese. She touches on those differences that set them apart and makes them special while revealing that as members of the human race we all struggle with the same problems. When faced with personal crisis or great disaster we all have the same fundamental human needs, but the answer to those needs is not necessarily the same for any one person.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 7, 2015

    Culture Changes Little

    Mockett's grief journey is a wonderful look at Japanese culture from a unique point of view: her mom is Japanese and her was American.
    I enjoyed learning about Buddhism, Fukashima and Japanese culture in general.
    As someone who has an interest in grief, I found that despite cultural differences, the grief journey for Japanese people takes time and introspection as in our culture.
    I recommend this book for Mockett's story telling ability and recounting of Buddhism and grief.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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