Haltingly, apologetically, then with increasing fluency, the survivors spoke of the terror of the wave, the pain of bereavement and their fears for the future. They also talked about encounters with the supernatural. They described sightings of ghostly strangers, friends and neighbours, and dead loved ones. They reported hauntings at home, at work, in offices and public places, on the beaches and in the ruined towns. The experiences ranged from eerie dreams and feelings of vague unease to cases, like that of Takeshi Ono, of outright possession.
A young man complained of pressure on his chest at night, as if some creature was straddling him as he slept. A teenage girl spoke of a fearful figure who squatted in her house. A middle-aged man hated to go out in the rain, because the eyes of the dead stared out at him from puddles.
A civil servant in Soma visited a devastated stretch of coast, and saw a solitary woman in a scarlet dress far from the nearest road or house, with no means of transport in sight. When he looked for her again she had disappeared.
A fire station in Tagajo received calls to places where all the houses had been destroyed by the tsunami. The crews went out to the ruins anyway and prayed for the spirits of those who had died – and the ghostly calls ceased.
A cab driver in the city of Sendai picked up a sad-faced man who asked to be taken to an address that no longer existed. Halfway through the journey, he looked into his mirror to see that the rear seat was empty. He drove on anyway, stopped in front of the levelled foundations of a destroyed house, and politely opened the door to allow the invisible passenger out at his former home.
In the London Review of Books, Richard Lloyd Parry looks at Japan’s cult of ancestors and the phenomena of the appearance of ghosts after the country was devastated by the 2011 tsunami. See more stories about the tsunami.
Photo: Pieterjan Vandaele
We need your help to get to 5,000 Longreads Members.