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Ghosts of the Tsunami

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Author Topic: Ghosts of the Tsunami  (Read 194 times)
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« on: October 20, 2014, 08:25:59 pm »

Kaneda spoke to him sternly; they both understood what had happened. ‘Ono told me that he’d walked along the beach in that devastated area, eating an ice cream,’ the priest said. ‘He even put up a sign in the car in the windscreen saying ‘disaster relief’, so that no one would stop him. He went there flippantly, without giving it any thought at all. I told him: “You fool. If you go to a place where many people have died, you must go with a feeling of respect. That’s common sense. You have suffered a kind of punishment for what you did. Something got hold of you, perhaps the dead who cannot accept yet that they are dead. They have been trying to express their regret and their resentment through you.”’ Kaneda smiled as he remembered it. ‘Mr Bean!’ he said. ‘He’s so innocent and open. That’s another reason they were able to possess him.’

Ono recognised all this, and more. It wasn’t just the spirits of men and women that had possessed him, he saw now, but also animals – cats and dogs and other beasts which had drowned with their masters.

He thanked the priest, and drove home. His nose was streaming as if with catarrh, but what came out was not mucus, but a bright pink jelly like nothing he had seen before.


The wave penetrated no more than a few miles inland, but over the hills in Kurihara it transformed the life of Reverend Kaneda. He had inherited his temple as the son and grandson of the previous priests, and the task of dealing with the survivors of the tsunami had tested him in ways for which he was unprepared. It had been the greatest disaster of postwar Japan: no larger single loss of life had occurred since the bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. And yet the pain did not announce itself; it dug underground and burrowed deep. Once the immediate emergency had abated, once the bodies were cremated, the memorial services held and the homeless sheltered, Kaneda set about trying to gain entry into the dungeon of silence in which he saw so many of the survivors languishing.

He began travelling around the coast with a group of fellow priests, organising an event he called ‘Café de Monku’ – a bilingual pun. As well as being the Japanese pronunciation of the English word ‘monk’, monku means ‘complaint’. ‘We think it will take a long time to get back to a calm, quiet, ordinary life,’ the flyer said. ‘Why don’t you come and join us – take a break and have a little moan? The monks will listen to your complaint – and have a monku of their own too.’

Under this pretext – a casual cup of tea and a friendly chat – people came to the temples and community centres where Café de Monku was held. Many lived in ‘temporary residences’, the grim prefabricated huts, freezing in winter and sweltering in summer, where those who could afford nothing better ended up. The priests listened sympathetically and made a point of not asking too many questions. ‘People don’t like to cry,’ Kaneda said. ‘They see it as selfish. Among those who are living in the temporary homes, there’s hardly anyone who hasn’t lost a member of their family. Everyone’s in the same boat, so they don’t like to seem self-indulgent. But when they start talking, and when you listen to them, and sense their gritted teeth and their suffering, all the suffering they can’t and won’t express, in time the tears come, and they flow without end.’
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