"The places where people say they see ghosts are largely those areas completely swept away by the tsunami"
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."
Ghosts of the tsunami
Kaneda beat the temple drum as he chanted the Heart Sutra:
There are no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue,
no body, mind; no colour, sound, or smell;
no taste, no touch, no thing; no realm of sight,
no realm of thoughts; no ignorance, no end
to ignorance; no old age and no death;
no end to age and death; no suffering,
nor any cause of suffering, nor end
to suffering, no path, no wisdom and no fulfilment.
I met a priest in the north of Japan who exorcised the spirits of people who had drowned in the tsunami. The ghosts did not appear in large numbers until later in the year, but Reverend Kaneda’s first case of possession came to him after less than a fortnight. He was chief priest at a Zen temple in the inland town of Kurihara. The earthquake on 11 March 2011 was the most violent that he, or anyone he knew, had ever experienced. The great wooden beams of the temple’s halls had flexed and groaned with the strain. Power, water and telephone lines were fractured for days; deprived of electricity, people in Kurihara, thirty miles from the coast, had a dimmer idea of what was going on there than television viewers on the other side of the world. But it became clear enough, when first a handful of families, and then a mass of them, began arriving at Kaneda’s temple with corpses to bury.