Monday, March 14, 2011


Fukushima, Japan/The New York Times Op-Ed

First, thanks to all my friends and family members who have inquired about my family in Japan. And thanks to everyone who read my piece in the New York Times. As you know, cousins from my grandfather's side of the family live in Iwaki City, which is south of Sendai, about 20 miles from the Daini Nuclear Power Plant and 27 miles from the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. While my family is alive and well at this moment, we are all obviously tremendously concerned, and have asked them to vacate the area. But as you also know, my family runs a Buddhist temple, which means they are now extremely busy comforting community members, and conducting funerals.

In the event that you are stopping by here because you want to know a little bit about my family, I've included some pictures and information. Tohoku, the region of Japan hit by the earthquake and tsunami, is a very, very dear place to me and has been since childhood. That's partly why I set my novel, Picking Bones from Ash, in the north of Japan. Lots of people focus on the glamorous south (where the geishas live); I love the wild, unpretentious and traditional north.

This is a photo showing four generations-my grandfather, who was 96 in this picture and who passed away just this January, my mother, my son Ewan, and me. This photo was taken last May. The temple belonged to my grandfather's father.

This is Sempou, my mother's cousin. I have known him since I was a small child; he was adopted into our family in his twenties to take over the temple. But later, I learned that he was actually a blood relative (complicated, Dickensian story for another day. I reference it here). Here, Ewan is five months old. I was planning on going back to the temple with Ewan this April for my grandfather and grandmother's memorial services. Obviously, I will not make it up to the temple at all this spring. It remains to be seen if I will postpone the trip altogether. All the same, Sempou was delighted to meet my son, though he refused to smile for a photo for me, as is the Japanese way for a certain generation.

A shot of Sempou putting the final touches on a funeral ceremony. The sutras for funerals are standard, but Sempou is a thoughtful man, who always looks for a way to personalize what he does; all deaths are unique.

Sempou is inside the temple, conducting "Daihanya," a yearly Buddhist ceremony that occurs in February. Sempou has a beautiful voice and a charismatic presence. Watching him, I felt incredibly proud. You can see how many people rely on him for comfort. Our temple is on the stark side. This is partly because it is in the Sotoshu sect (Zen), but also because it is old (though not old enough to be some kind of historical site!)

The two faces of Sempou's son, Maakun (as I call him). On the one hand, he's a stylish, Harajuku going fashionista, making the drive down to Tokyo for his clothes. He is also a very serious and compassionate young priest in the making. I wrote quite a lot about my cousin here.

A casual shot of my young cousin greeting a visitor. This walkway connects the temple (left) to the house (right) where everyone lives. Privacy is a little hard to come by at the temple, as visitors drop by without warning and the priests (not to mention their wives) must be ready to receive and entertain them. Of course, other people make appointments, but it's completely unsurprising when someone shows up out of the blue. Also, note the parasol. I now carry one in New York!

But don't get the idea that my cousins--Maakun and his brothers--are in any way overly serious. They are boys. Here, priest gear is mixed in with Sony Playstation gear.

I also wanted to include a shot of what the coast looks like in peaceful times. My mother and I routinely stay at Sekinoyu Spa, near Nakoso. It’s a traditional place, with a sign out front declaring that no one with a
tattoo will be allowed to bathe inside. When I arrive, it’s usually
evening and I immediately head to the baths, before retiring to the
dining hall for a bowl of raw, fresh sea urchin and rice. Then it’s
off to bed in a futon—a real futon that lies on the woven tatami floor
of my room, and not a wooden Ikea frame. Older, single men often opt
to spend the night in armchairs so as to avoid paying for a hotel
room; they rise and bathe and eat in the morning. I wake up to the
cinnamon sun warming the horizon and fishermen out to get their catch.
The waves of the North Pacific crash right outside the window, and a
seawall comprised of concrete pieces that look like oversized jacks,
combs the water.

Below, a view of the sunrise over the ocean, and the boats at sea.

If you want to read more, here are some notes and photos from Ewan's first trip to Japan last year, some photos from Maakun's wedding, notes on what happens at a funeral, and a piece I wrote titled Letter from a Japanese Crematorium.

I'm not sure if this makes more happy -- to focus on the positive times, the beauty of the region, your lovely family -- or just more sad. I guess like this whole situation; it's bittersweet.
Oh, Christopher. Thanks. I still feel very much in shock and denial. I wonder if Rumsfeld ever felt shock and denial?

Seriously--I am sorry about Sendai. I have happy memories of Sendai too--the best Tanabata ever. Did you ever see it?
It's so hard to watch this all happened. How much harder it must be to actually have connections--never mind as many as you do. I hope everyone will be well.
I'm glad to hear that your family is safe, and I'm hoping they remain so.
I have never seen Sendai nor ever met his family. There's a great deal of pain around that and our ongoing immigration struggles. So here we are stuck in NYC unable to help, unable to leave the U.S. really.
Thank you for this, and I just wanted to say that your piece in the Times was beautiful. I hope your family remains safe, no matter what decision they make about evacuating the area.
Marie -- I would like to reference your blog and use a couple of the photos on my own blog:

Would that be all right with you?
Please send me a message at Lauren [at]

Hi Ms Mockett

I am from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
I read your beautiful story in the NY Times and am happy that your family is safe.
Will be getting your book soon if it is available in my country.
This is exquisite, as is your piece in the New York Times. Thank you for providing an intimate portrait that makes very human this overwhelming tragedy. I hope the wild, unpretentious north can find its way through again. Sending my very best to you and your family.
The blog is up, Marie. You can rad it at:
Holding you and your family in my thoughts and prayers today. Your blog and the Times article bring us closer to you and your family. May God bless them in their healing work and keep them all safe.
Hi Marie,

Moving piece in the NYT. Would love to re-connect. You can find me at
A world of prayers are with you all.
Thank you all so much

And, Tammy!
Hi Marie, Tomas and I are thinking about you and your family. Our hearts are with you. If you need us for anything, just give us a call. I hope you don't mind that I post a link back to your blog.
Marie, I so appreciated this post and thank you for sharing images of your family and their place in Japan's "wild, unpretentious, and traditional" north. I look forward to following your future posts, as the connection between Japan and the West are also deeply important to me. Yoroshiku...
Wendy from Canada
Marie, I am sending my thoughts and prayers to you and to your family. After reading Lauren's blog, which now includes part of your story and led me here.
Canadians are multicultural and many out here on the West Coast are from the Orient and the Far East. The Japanese community and other Canadians are doing what they can for those now suffering the effects of the earthquake, tsunami and now the nuclear fallout as well as homelessness. I've never visited the Orient, but have a huge philosophical base of Buddhism. It has helped me through tough times and I am sure it will help those in Japan greatly. Sending love to you and all those in Japan dear to your heart.
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