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Ghosts of the Tsunami

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Author Topic: Ghosts of the Tsunami  (Read 256 times)
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« on: October 20, 2014, 08:27:46 pm »


Late last summer I went back to see Reverend Kaneda again. Two and a half years had passed since the disaster, and inland there was no visible evidence of it at all. The towns and cities of Tohoku were humming with the money being injected into the region for its reconstruction. A hundred thousand people still lived in prefabricated houses, but these upsetting places were tucked away out of sight of the casual visitor. None of the towns destroyed by the wave had been rebuilt, but they had been scoured of rubble. Coarse, tussocky grass had overgrown the coastal strip, and those ruins that were still visible looked more like neglected archaeological sites than places of continuing pain and despair.

I visited Kaneda in his temple, and sat in the room where he received visitors. Lined up on the tatami were dozens of small clay statues, which would be handed out to the patrons of Café de Monku. They were representations of Jizo, the bodhisattva associated with kindness and mercy, who consoles the living and the dead.

In this room, Kaneda told me, he recently met a 25-year-old woman whom I will call Rumiko Takahashi. She had telephoned him in June in a state of incoherent distress. She talked of killing herself; she shouted about things entering her. That evening, a car pulled up at the temple: Rumiko, her mother, sister and fiancé were inside. She was a nurse from Sendai – ‘a very gentle person’, Kaneda said, ‘nothing peculiar or unusual about her at all’. Neither she, nor her family, had been hurt by the tsunami. But for weeks, her fiancé said, she had been complaining of something pushing into her from a place deep below, of dead presences ‘pouring out’ invisibly around her. Rumiko herself was slumped over the table. She stirred as Kaneda addressed the creature within her. ‘I asked: “Who are you, and what do you want?”’ he said. ‘When it spoke, it didn’t sound like her at all. It talked for three hours.’

It was the spirit of a young woman whose mother had divorced and remarried, and who found herself unloved and unwanted by her new family. She ran away and found work in the mizu shobai, or ‘water trade’, the night-time world of clubs, bars and prostitution. There she became more and more isolated and depressed, and fell under the influence of a morbid and manipulative man. Unknown to her family, unmourned by anyone, she killed herself. Since then, not a stick of incense had been lit in her memory.

Kaneda asked the spirit: ‘Will you come with me? Do you want me to lead you to the light?’ He took her to the main hall of the temple, where he recited the sutra and sprinkled holy water. By the time the prayers were done, at half past one in the morning, Rumiko had returned to herself, and she and her family went home.

Three days later she was back. She complained of great pain in her left leg; once again, she had the sensation of being stalked by an alien presence. The effort of keeping out the intruder was exhausting. ‘That was the strain, the feeling that made her suicidal,’ Kaneda said. ‘I told her: “Don’t worry – just let it in.”’ Rumiko’s posture and voice immediately stiffened and deepened; Kaneda found himself talking to a gruff man with a peremptory manner of speech, a sailor of the old Imperial Navy who had died in action during the Second World War after his left leg had been gravely injured by a shell.

The priest spoke soothingly to the old veteran: he prayed and chanted, the interloper departed, and Rumiko was calm. But all of this was just a prologue. ‘All the people who came,’ Kaneda said, ‘and each one of the stories they told had some connection with water.’
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