A year on, ghosts stalk tsunami-ruined city

A year on, ghosts stalk tsunami-ruined city

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A year after whole neighbourhoods of people were killed by the Japanese tsunami, rumours of ghosts swirl in Ishinomaki as the city struggles to come to terms with the tragedy.

One reconstruction project appears stalled because of fears the undead spirits of those who perished in March will bring bad luck.

“I heard people working to repair the store became sick because of ghosts,” Satoshi Abe, 64, said, gesturing to a half-repaired supermarket.

“People died everywhere, here and there. The city is full of such stories,” he said.

In some parts of this once vibrant fishing port, signs of life are returning — houses are being rebuilt, businesses are re-opening and children are back at school.

But with around a fifth of the 19,000 who died across the north-east having lost their lives in this small city alone, few think it can ever be normal again.

Shinichi Sasaki said the memory of March 11, 2011, never leaves and it is this persistent memory that creates the “ghosts”.

“That day keeps coming back to your mind,” he said. “If you know someone who was killed, and the death was so sudden, you may feel that person is still there. I don’t believe in ghosts but I can understand why the town is rife with rumours.”

One taxi driver, who did not want to give his name, told of his unwillingness to stop in parts of the city that were all but wiped out by the enormous waves of last March, because he worries his customer will be a spirit.

Counsellors and academics say a widespread belief in ghosts is fairly normal in the aftermath of a large tragedy and forms a part of the healing process in a society.

For some of those who lost loved ones, the traditions that usually accompany death in Japan have served their purpose.

Shinto priests have been called upon to console the souls of the dead and ease their passage into the next world before they purify the places their bodies were found.

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