My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Not as much memoir as I expected nor as much about Fukushima, though both are backdrops. To me it reads as ethnography. The personal is present mostly through flashbacks to stories of her mother’s youth in Japan and those of other relatives. And events lead to bits of history and custom. Although the author is biracial and raised in the US, there is none of the identity angst often found. Perhaps her mother’s taking her to Japan yearly “to see the beauty that is Japan” is a contributing factor to her comfort. She accepts that she looks foreign in Japan, that she then surprises people by speaking Japanese, that she needs to learn more about traditions beyond book knowledge as her temple owning uncle suggests. This learning is facilitated by her also being part of a documentary about Japan’s dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake/tsunami. Through the book Mockett conveys that western-style mental health care is not the only way to deal with grief.
The book begins personally with Mockett’s concern for her family, in the temple 30 miles from Fukushima, and the trip meant to be for the grandfather’s burial, now delayed. It moves to a later time and a day with a relief worker visiting temporary housing and providing grief processing activities and a listening ear. From there to meanings associated with winter and spring and cherry blossoms.
In the next few chapters Mockett visits several important temples, learns through discussion, and experiences some of their rituals/meditations. These chapters felt more theoretical. Then follow chapters where she both describes rituals associated with death and participates in them; though this is for the documentary, it is also personal, and there is a return to the experiential. Mockett’s grieving of the deaths of three family members is fused with the peoples’ grieving as she narrates. And the book ends personally.
The book is a window to a brief look at a portion of Japanese culture and a book worth reading.