Bizarre Tsunami Ghost Stories Haunt Japan
But is the country's cult of ancestors behind it all?
By Neal Colgrass, Newser Staff
Posted Feb 16, 2014 6:01 PM CST
Waves of tsunami hit residences after a powerful earthquake in Natori, Miyagi prefecture (state), Japan, Friday, March 11, 2011.   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

(Newser) – An unusual outbreak has struck Japan in the wake of the 2011 tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people—of ghosts, possessions, and exorcisms. Reverend Kaneda, the top priest at a Zen temple, says he personally exorcised several people who had been invaded by the spirits of tsunami victims, writes Richard Lloyd Parry in the London Review of Books. Believe the stories or don't, they can be moving and scary:

  • A farmer who flippantly visited the tsunami scene—while eating an ice cream no less—terrified his wife in the coming days by jumping down on all fours, licking the futon, bellowing all night, and saying, "Everyone must die." Kaneda scolded the farmer for acting foolishly and exorcised the spirit. "Something got hold of you, perhaps the dead who cannot accept yet that they are dead."
  • A fire station in Tagajo kept getting calls to places that were demolished by the tsunami, until the firefighters prayed for spirits of people who had died—and the calls stopped coming.
  • A Sendai cab driver picked up a sad-looking man who wanted to go to an address that had been swept away. The cab driver looked in the mirror and saw that his passenger was gone, but the driver drove there anyway and opened the door for the ghost to leave.
  • Kaneda exorcised one woman of 25 spirits that entered her one after the other. One said he was a father trying to find his daughter when the quake struck. Now he was at "the bottom of the sea," unable to swim up because "there are bodies all around me."

According to Parry, Japan's unspoken religion, the cult of ancestors, may be behind all this. Many Japanese keep memorial tablets for dead ancestors—the ihai—and consider them alive in some way. Knowing this, a book publisher who doesn't believe in the supernatural held readings of ghost stories at community centers, where locals could tell their own tales as a form of therapy. "We provide an alternative for helping people through the power of literature," he said. Click for Parry's full article. Or read about a Japanese widower who is searching the sea floor for his wife who was killed in the tsunami, at the BBC.

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Feb 23, 2014 9:43 PM CST
Back when I was in EMS, there was a senior living apartment in our district. A resident had died in apartment 208. All of his things had been removed and the apartment was ready to rent. The apartment had a medical alert system consisting of pull cords connected to wall switches in several places. Our crews were called out numerous times for false alarms, all hours of the day and night, and we would find one or more of the switches tripped. The calls continued for almost a month until finally the apartment managers disconnected that room's switches at the central alarm panel. We would have figured someone was going in and tripping the switches to mess with us, except for one thing- surveillance video of the hallway showed nobody going into or out of the room before the call. We used to hear squad doors open and close in the bay when nobody was there. I was once doing a checkout of the rescue truck and quite clearly heard a child's voice say, "Whoa!" No children were there. There was an interior hallway in which an ice cold spot perhaps three feet wide would sometimes appear, right in the middle of the hallway in front of a bulletin board. A heating duct at the end of the hallway kept air flowing through the hallway out into the bay. One EMT reported catching a glimpse of a young girl watching her as she was wrapping Christmas presents late one night. When she looked directly at where the girl had been standing, nobody was there. I was sound asleep in my bunk one night and awakened to see the figure of half of a person, from the waist up, hovering beside my bed. It scared the bejeebers out of me until I realized it was a CPR mannequin my partner had strapped to a backboard and propped up next to me. Two shifts later, she was off at midnight. I put the mannequin in the back seat of her car. She didn't notice it until after she'd gotten in and started to back up. I do believe the words she said would have made a drunken sailor blush.
Joseph Mason
Feb 18, 2014 12:27 AM CST
It doesn't shock me that such a large event that killed over 20,000 would result in hauntings. I grew up in a house that had been rebuilt after a fire. One drunken Mexican dude went into the house after coming home from a night of drinking and found his house on fire. He thought his family was in the house and he went into the house and died. Our house was very haunted. That was just one death. I can't even imagine what over 20,000 deaths would do.
Feb 17, 2014 10:32 AM CST
Maybeit's the souls of all the dolphins their countrymen killed coming back for a little payback.