Book Review: Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye

"Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye" by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
By: 
Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Bookworm Sez, LLC

You didn’t know where to turn.
Sometimes, it’s bad enough standing up to an impossible decision, but acting on it can be the bigger challenge. You don’t know where to turn and so, as in the book “Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye” by Marie Mutsuki Mockett, maybe it’s best to ask your ancestors.
Until March 11, 2011, the biggest “great tragedy” that befell Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s maternal family was World War II. They’d survived Nagasaki’s bombing then, through coincidence and good fortune. On that spring day five years ago, they hoped their luck held when Japan was hit with an earthquake, followed by a tsunami.
Mockett’s cousins ran a Zen Buddhist temple that her mother’s family owned in Japan and, concerned for their safety, Mockett spent hours frantically phoning for word, her feelings exacerbated by other familial losses and by grief she couldn’t let go. She’d been “struggling,” and she wanted to move on. She’d hoped that the help she sought might lie in the country of her mother’s birth and so, three weeks after the disaster, on a mission to bury her grandfather’s bones, she traveled to Japan with her mother and son.
Because of the radiation that had seeped into the ground, it would be months before that mission was completed; in the meantime, Mockett went in search of a release for her grief in a way that made sense. She spoke with Buddhist monks, “blind mediums,” and “Mountain Women.” She reached back to experience ancient Japanese religions, visited temples, and learned that being present lent strength and that silence and meditation were refreshing and mind-clearing. She began to understand the Japanese belief in ancestral ghosts; she visited Sai no Kawara, where the dead go to wait; and she participated in Oban, in which the Japanese call their dead home.
“I thought that of all the cruel and futile things that can happen…,” she says, “the very worst is when we are separated.” And yet, “The love we have for people, after all, never truly goes away, even if they leave us in owakare, the great parting.”
Now out in paperback, “Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye” is as lovely and calming as the Zen Buddhist temples it features so elegantly. It’s a tale you’ll want to read slowly; in fact, speedy reading may be impossible.
The reason, ultimately, is that this book consists of many stories: author Marie Mutsuki Mockett offers her family’s history, as well as that of Japan , and of Japanese culture and religion. Though that’s integral, there are pages where you’ll read details that seem to have been stated before, particularly in the middle of Mockett’s journey. There’s a lot to absorb and, when added to the quietness of the narrative, it can crawl.
Still, if you stick around, you’ll be rewarded with an ending that’s insightfully refreshing and definitely worth the time. Stay with it, because “Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye” is, at last, a good turn.

Category: