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Ghosts of the Tsunami

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Author Topic: Ghosts of the Tsunami  (Read 163 times)
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« on: October 20, 2014, 08:28:01 pm »


Over the course of last summer, Reverend Kaneda exorcised 25 spirits from Rumiko Takahashi. They came and went at the rate of several a week. All of them, after the wartime sailor, were ghosts of the tsunami. For Kaneda, the days followed a relentless routine. The telephone call from Rumiko would come in the early evening; at nine o’clock her fiancé would pull up in front of the temple and carry her out of the car. As many as three spirits would appear in a single session. Kaneda talked to each personality in turn, sometimes over several hours: he established their circumstances, calmed their fears and politely but firmly enjoined them to follow him towards the light. Kaneda’s wife would sit with Rumiko; sometimes other priests were present to join in with the prayers. In the early hours of the morning, Rumiko would be driven home. ‘Each time she would feel better, and go back to Sendai, and go to work,’ Kaneda told me. ‘But then after a few days, she’d be overwhelmed again.’ Out among the living, surrounded by the city, she would become conscious of the dead, a thousand importunate spirits pressing in on her and trying to get inside.

One of the first was a middle-aged man who, speaking through Rumiko, despairingly called the name of his daughter.

‘Kaori!’ said the voice. ‘Kaori! I have to get to Kaori. Where are you, Kaori? I have to get to the school, there’s a tsunami coming.’

The man’s daughter had been at her school by the sea when the earthquake struck. He had rushed out of work and driven along the coast road to pick her up, when the water had overtaken him. His agitation was intense; he was impatient and suspicious of Kaneda.

The voice asked: ‘Am I alive or not?’

‘No,’ Kaneda said. ‘You are dead.’

‘And how many people died?’ the voice asked.

‘Twenty thousand people died.’

‘Twenty thousand? So many?’

Later, Kaneda asked him where he was.

‘I’m at the bottom of the sea. It is very cold.’

‘Come up from the sea to the world of light,’ Kaneda said.

‘But the light is so small,’ the man replied. ‘There are bodies all around me, and I can’t reach it. And who are you anyway? Who are you to lead me to the world of light?’

The conversation went round and round for two hours. Eventually, Kaneda said: ‘You are a father. You understand the anxieties of a parent. Consider this girl whose body you have used. She has a father and mother who are worried about her. Have you thought of that?’

There was a long pause, and the man said, ‘You’re right,’ then moaned. Kaneda chanted the sutra. He paused from time to time when the voice uttered choked sounds, but they faded to mumbles and finally the man was gone.

Day after day, week after week, the spirits kept coming: men and women, young people and old, with accents rough and polished. They told their stories at length, but there was never enough specific detail – surnames, place names, addresses – to verify any individual account, and Kaneda felt no urge to. One man had survived the tsunami but killed himself after learning of the death of his two daughters. Another wanted to join the rest of his ancestors but couldn’t find his way because his home and everything in it had been washed away. There was an old man who spoke in thick Tohoku dialect. He was desperately worried about his wife, who had survived and was living alone and uncared-for in one of the bleak metal huts. In a shoebox, she kept a white rope which she would contemplate and caress. He feared what she planned to use it for.

Kaneda reasoned and cajoled, prayed and chanted, and in the end each of the spirits gave way. But days or hours after one group of ghosts had been dismissed, more would stumble forward to take their place. One night in the temple, Rumiko announced: ‘There are dogs all around me, it’s loud! They are barking so loudly I can’t bear it.’ Then she said: ‘No! I don’t want it. I don’t want to be a dog.’ Finally she said: ‘Give it rice and water to eat. I’m going to let it in.’
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