When her American father unexpectedly passes away, Marie Mutsuki Mockett seeks consolation in her mother’s home country of Japan. Her relatives own a Buddhist temple near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where, after the 2011 tsunami, radiation levels prohibit the burial of her grandfather, who has also recently passed. Burdened with these personal sorrows, Mockett travels in the wake of the storm to explore the grief of others as she seeks her own path toward healing. In her new book Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye, Mockett records her travels across the island nation. She treks around the base of Mt. Doom in search of one of the two remaining itakos -- blind mediums -- who can connect her with the dead, shadows a monk delivering solace to the families of victims of the tsunami and explores several temples, including one that commemorates material objects that are believed to gain souls after 100 years.
Determined to immerse herself in a culture that views her as an outsider, Mockett visits a radiation zone in a hazmat suit, undergoes training at a school for Zen Buddhist monks and participates wholeheartedly in matsuri, or Japanese festivals, like the springtime cherry blossom celebrations and a particularly poignant lantern festival, where she observes the lanterns floating in clusters with the currents, “as though some of the souls out at sea were in fact not alone but traveling home to the horizon with each other.” Throughout her travels Mockett continually explores Japanese lore -- from possessed chopsticks to cremation ceremonies -- in an effort to understand the Japanese way of grieving, but also to learn how to bury her own dead and, ultimately, to find peace. This wise book is an unpretentious and engaging introduction to Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism, as well as an exploration of how a particular culture accepts loss and alleviates suffering.