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Ghosts of the Tsunami

Five years on from Japan's tsunami, the Asia editor of the Times, Richard Lloyd Parry, talks to those who feel they have seen, or even been possessed by, the ghosts of the dead.

Five years after Japan's Tsunami, some survivors report seeing the ghosts of the dead.

Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Editor of the Times, has lived in Japan for 20 years. After the 2011 Tsunami he began to hear strange stories from the survivors. One woman said she was possessed by 25 different spirits, including a chained dog which had starved within the Fukushima fallout zone. A young builder saw people, plastered in mud, walking endlessly past his house. A cab driver's fare disappeared from the back seat, as soon as the car arrived at the abandoned address.

Now, Richard revisits the region to talk to those who claim to have seen ghosts.

Their stories - sometimes frightening, sometimes beautiful - reveal deeply-held elements of Japanese faith and spirituality, such as the cult of the ancestors, and Richard quickly comes to understand the role the dead play in the lives of the living.

Almost 20,000 people died in the disaster and for many survivors it felt selfish to express their personal grief. We hear how, for those trying to help people struck by the tragedy, part of the challenge has been to prompt them to express how they feel. Perhaps this is what the ghosts are doing.

So, as well as those directly affected, Richard talks those who try to comfort them - such as publisher Masashi Hijikata, who has revived an old literary tradition of Kaidankai or weird tale parties, bringing people together to tell their ghost tales in a kind of group therapy. There's also Reverend Kaneta, a charismatic Zen priest who has performed exorcisms on the 'possessed' and travelled the coastline, encouraging people to talk about their trauma while drinking coffee and listening to the dissonant jazz of Thelonius Monk records.

A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.

Available now

28 minutes

Last on

Fri 11 Mar 2016 11:00

Tsunami Evacuation Area

Tsunami Evacuation Area


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