Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye
by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
Setting & details: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Authenticity of Japanese characters & dialogue: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Translation quality: N/A
Entertainment value: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
My recommendation: Thought provoking and insightful
This is the book that made me want to visit Koya-san.
The author takes us along on her own search for meaning in the wake of her father’s death, and visits all the most fascinating pilgrimage sites in Japan. And they’re not all temples. From meditating at a famous Zen monastery to standing in line at the haunted lake where you can consult a blind medium to speak with the dead, the author seeks out legendary places of power and asks all the right questions
It’s the answers she gets from this wide variety of sages that I found myself highlighting (even though I am so NOT a highlight-y person GO FIGURE). Along the way, she delves into the quirky details of this ceremony or that tradition, and travels to seldom-visited corners of Japan, which makes her quest also the ultimate off-the-beaten-path Japan travel guide.
I’ll admit that I’m not usually a huge memoir fan––it’s hard for a writer to know which of their own experiences will be interesting and eye-opening to everybody, and which are only interesting to themselves––but Mockett (whose mother is Japanese) has an excellent sense of what’s fresh and thought-provoking, and does a wonderful job of translating what she was told into insights that are both clear and deep. (And sometimes quite funny – she can laugh at herself and the kind of missteps we’ve all made, when confronted with the strange and baffling.)
This book is about seeking wisdom, but it never reads as preachy or woo-woo, and the author allows us to eavesdrop on what each expert has to say, and lets it resonate (or not) for ourselves. The journey itself is filled with delightful characters and down-to-earth moments that make this a delightful read, from beginning to end.
If you love Japan, you might enjoy The Last Tea Bowl Thief too
“This book is an absolutely delicious read.” —Katherine Catmull, author of Summer and Bird