Thursday 04 July 2002

Visiting Ozu’s grave

On an overcast Friday afternoon, Natsuko’s aunt’s ashes were buried at the temple, ten minutes from the family home. After another formal meal in the temple dining room, similar to the one we’d eaten at the crematorium, Natsuko’s sister drove us quickly through the narrow streets back to the house she shared with her teenage daughter.

We spread our futons out on the living room floor, took off our clothes, and immediately fell asleep. In the past two days we’d slept only five or six hours.

The next morning, Natsuko—knowing I would return home the following day—asked me how I wanted to spend my last day in Japan. More than anything, I told her, I wished to visit Ozu’s grave.

Kita-Kamakura station signI recalled a scene from Tokyo-ga, Wim Wenders’ movie about Ozu: the railway station sign saying Kita-Kamakura, Ozu’s headstone engraved with the character mu

“I think he’s buried at Kita-Kamakura,” I told Natsuko.

“We’ll have to change trains at Ofuna,” she replied.

At Kita-Kamakura no-one knew where Ozu was buried so we walked back to the station to wait twenty minutes for the next train. I wandered out and stood by the level crossing, snapping pictures of people as they waited then crossed over the railway line. As an express clattered past, I thought of the mandatory train scenes in Ozu’s films, particularly the ninety-second sequence in Ochazuke no aji, with Taeko on the train to Nagoya in a futile attempt to escape the invented unhappiness of her marriage. Natsuko sat on a bench at the station, reading a magazine.

Eventually I strolled back and we rode one stop south to Kamakura to ask at the koban, the police box next to the station. Japanese police usually know where everyone and everything is but they had no idea who Ozu was or where he might be buried.

Natsuko suggested we look for books on Ozu in the bookstore across the square but the single book on the shelf mentioned only a memorial service held in Tokyo after his death. There was nothing about his funeral or burial.

Discouraged, we went to a coffee shop. Natsuko ordered strawberry pancakes.

Natsuko's strawberry pancakes

Suddenly, her mouth full of pancake, she said: “There must be a tourist bureau, we should have asked there.”

The young woman at the Visitors Center had never heard of Ozu but she pulled a thick blue binder from the shelf behind, dropped it on the counter with a thud, and slowly flicked through the pages. Sure enough, under “O” there was a brief note: he was buried at Engaku-ji. We bought another set of tickets for the ride back to Kita-Kamakura.

Engaku-ji was just a few minutes walk from the station. The old attendant to whom we paid our entry fee spoke rapidly to Natsuko, pointing to a steep slope above the carpark. I thought I caught the word “mu.”

“He says Ozu’s buried up there, we should look for a black marble headstone with the character ‘mu.’”

We walked across the carpark, climbed to the top of a set of worn stone stairs, and looked around the jumbled profusion of Japanese graves. Instinctively—was it my memory of Wim Wenders’ film?—I headed off to the right and there it was. Ozu’s grave.

We’d come in late April, the end of the cherry season. Damp pink and white petals lay scattered around the huge marble cube. I could just make out the character “mu.”

Ozu's grave at Engaku-jiI took some photographs. Natsuko did the same. Then we stood before the grave and bowed our heads to pray.

I looked back through my life, remembering Ozu’s films, when and where I’d seen them, who I’d been with at the time… most of all I thought of all he’d taught me about the inextricable link between beauty and sadness, about mono no aware.

It had been years since I’d prayed: like Ozu, I believed primarily in nothingness. But I recalled Murasaki Shikibu’s visit to Ishiyamadera, the temple on the edge of Lake Biwa, where she is supposed to have prayed for and received inspiration to write The Tale of Genji. I asked Ozu to guide me as I attempted to write my own book.

The sound of two sharp claps shattered my reverie. Natsuko had finished her prayers in the Japanese style.

“Ozu-san ni inotta no?” she asked me. “Did you pray to Ozu?”

“Inotta yo,” I replied. “Yes I did.”

“Eigo de? Nihongo de?” In English or Japanese?

“In English,” I told her, “it was too complicated for my Japanese.”

“Well, you know, Ozu didn’t speak English,” Natsuko said tartly. “He wouldn’t have understood your prayer.”

“The gods would have translated for him,” I told her as I walked towards the stairs, trying to recall the face of a woman I’d photographed crossing the railway tracks, a woman I would never see again.

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Comments

Jeez Jonathan, saying Ozu's films are about mononoaware is like saying photographs are about light and shadow. They are about something else but you don't seem to be aware of what that is. I won't tell you because you will have to discern this on your own.
And "mu" is not "nothingness." Mu is a complex religious concept, it is often translated as nothingness because there is no similar western concept. But it is most definitely not "the absence of anything" but "something."
Please work harder to understand these concepts before spouting such bilge.

Posted by C on 4 July 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I imagine that Jonathon will take the time to provide a thoughtful, careful answer trying not taking offense at what is a spiteful, childish comment (and yes, I remember you from my own comments). And I imagine that others will also thoughtfully respond. Personally, though, I think you're a hypocritical, envious, petty piece of shit.

"I won't tell you because you have to discern this on your own" - what a cowardly statement. The statement of the schoolyard bully going "I know something you don't know. I know something you don't know".

Jonathon and other webloggers take the time to write what's important to them, to share themselves with others. And, usually, our readers have the sensitivity to appreciate this, if not necessarily agree with what we write. Based on this sensitivity (requiring some intelligence) they'll respond accordingly.

Occasionally, though, someone like you comes along and talks from the safety of anonymity, disparging what's written in such a way that the weblogger either has to waste time with clarification or response, or just leave the piece of shit hanging there in the comments.

If you were really as knowledgeable as you pretend to be, you would write thoughtfully, carefully, completely, and you would be proud enough of your effort to attach your name to it. Instead, you write with innuendo and slander, sign it with a pretentious 'C', and then go your envious and petty way.

I don't always agree with Jonathon, but I never fail to appreciate and cherish these moments when he shares himself with his readers. And I know that there's going to come a time when he'll most likely take a break from weblogging and return to his research and his book. And then, where will cowards like you go? Spreading your trash in other weblogs, always signing yourself 'C'?

Coward. 'C' is for Coward.

Posted by Burningbird on 4 July 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Well said, Burningbird.

Posted by John on 4 July 2002 (Comment Permalink)

It takes much contemplation and study to discern the mystical reality of "mu." If I just told you what I think it is, it wouldn't make any sense, you have to figure it out for yourself. For someone like J who supposes himself to be a scholar of buddhism, that statement should be obvious.
Mononoaware is another complex concept, it is the background of much of Japanese literature, it is not the foreground. It's like saying English literature is about the alphabet.
If Jonathan expects experienced Japan scholars like myself to take him seriously, he will have to learn to avoid sounding like an Orientalist, dropping little exotic-sounding terms like mononoaware and mu into his remarks where they are devoid of context or relevance. This stuff may impress the rubes, but some of us know better.

Posted by C on 5 July 2002 (Comment Permalink)

C, and your background is? And your name is? Sorry, but us rubes like to know this sort of thing, we're so impressed with real smart people like yourself.

Posted by Burningbird on 5 July 2002 (Comment Permalink)

well, after reading yet another wonderful post by jonathan, what a rude awakening to pursue further and read certain comments herein.

at any rate, jonathan, another lovely post, considered, thoughtful, well-written and inspiring me to make my own pilgramage to Kita-Kamakura.

Posted by Kurt on 6 July 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Thanks to publish on Internet this article and the Ozu's Tombstone.

Posted by FRSoldier on 16 February 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I know how late I am, but this is a beautiful entry, and I had to try to let you know.

Posted by tara. on 28 June 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Jonathan, I'm also late, and I apologize for adding a comment to an entry from so long ago, and after you've stopped (for the moment?) this blog (where hath you gone, friend). However, after initially reading this entry last year, I was inspired, as I commented above, to make my own pilgrimage to Ozu's grave. Last week, I made a return visit there, on my way to an Ozu exhibit in Kamakura. The reason for my comment is that, should anyone read your beautiful entry and feel similarly inspired, I've created a couple of pages showing how to find the gravesite:

http://www.easterwood.org/ozu/gravesite/directions.htm

Posted by Kurt on 1 July 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

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