‘The tsunami was a thing of a different order, darker, stranger, massively more powerful and violent, without kindness or cruelty, beauty or ugliness, wholly alien. It was the sea coming onto land, the ocean itself picking up its feet and charging at you with a roar in its throat…’
I bought Ghosts of the Tsunami days before my mum died and wasn’t able to pick it back up for a long time afterwards. However, I have finished reading it and thoroughly recommend it.
Although we have discussed Tsunami Ghosts on The Spooktator podcast on a number of occasions – especially the testimony of taxi drivers who picked up passengers for now-ruined towns who would vanish mid-journey -I had never considered in too much detail the cultural impact the 2011 tsunami had on the way in which people in Japan worship the spirits of their ancestors.
In this book, Parry writes ‘the tsunami did appalling violence to the religion of the ancestors’ and by that he means that not only did those waters wash away homes, buildings, villages and people, but it also washed away and destroyed their altars and memorial tables and shrines. Cemeteries were destroyed and the bones of those buried there was scattered around. Not only did people then have to contend with the restless ghosts of the victims of the tsunami who hadn’t been laid to rest yet, but also the restless spirits of their ancestors who had been disturbed too.
A priest told the author that when there’s a disaster where you and I might grab our important documents, our cat, and our laptop, many people will rescue the memorial tablets of their ancestors – that’ show important they are. The priest also explained that many people would have died in the tsunami waters because they rushed towards danger to save the memorial tablets in their homes, rather than evacuating to safety – that’s the importance placed upon them, which blew my mind. So, the tsunami not only killed people or destroyed their lives, but it also inflicted harm on the spirits of the dead.
Of course, this speaks more to the way in which individuals from different cultures think about death and life after death than it speaks about the existence of ghosts, but these up-close and personal stories from the people who witnessed the devastation of the 2011 tsunami are utterly gut wrenching. it’s a difficult book to read, but it’s worth the challenge.