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

(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.

Waves of tsunami hit residences after a powerful earthquake in Natori, Miyagi prefecture (state), Japan, Friday, March 11, 2011.   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
A couple walk through the rubble at the March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated area in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan, Saturday, April 2, 2011.   (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
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