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.