Japan's post-disaster reconstruction efforts hindered

As the first anniversary of the disaster approaches, Ishinomaki appears, on the surface at least, to be returning to a new level of normality, with the tsunami debris cleared away in most areas and a growing number of businesses reopening.

At the same time, the emotional impact of the massive losses of human life are clearly continuing to take their toll on residents: close to 4,000 Ishinomaki locals were killed in the tsunami out of a total death toll of 19,000 for the northeast region.

However, experts described the city’s apparent widespread belief in ghosts as a “natural” side effect of a large-scale tragedy which wiped out vast swathes of the community and a potentially positive part of the healing process.

“Human beings find it very difficult to accept death, whether they are inclined by nature to superstition or are very scientifically minded,” said Takeo Funabiki, a cultural anthropologist.

“A sudden or abnormal death, anything other than someone dying in bed of old age, is particularly difficult for people to comprehend.

“When there are things that many people find difficult to accept, they can find expression in the form of rumours or rituals for the dead, among other things. The point is that it takes the shape of something that you can share with other people in your society.”

Koji Ikeda, a therapist and lecturer at the Academy of Counselors Japan, added: “It is possible that a whole lot of emotions that people cannot fully cope with lead to ‘projections’ of spirits” he said. “Pent-up emotions need to be expressed in order for people to be able to adapt to the new reality and move forward with their grief.”

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