People in the city of Ishinomaki, where about a fifth of the 19,000 victims of last year’s tsunami died, are struggling to recover emotionally after the tragedy, with many saying they sense the spirits of the dead people around.
“People died everywhere, here and there. The city is full of such stories,” a 64-year-old citizen says.
“If you know someone who was killed, and the death was so sudden, you may feel that person is still there. I don’t believe in ghosts but I can understand why the town is rife with rumors,” says another local, while a taxi driver confesses he does not drive to certain parts of the city, which were completely wiped out by the waves, for fear his customer could be a spirit.
Workers at a reconstruction site are complaining they became sick because of the ghosts, while a woman who lives in the city says she heard stories about “queues” of ghosts running towards the hills, in a repeated attempt to escape the waves, an endless repetition of their last minutes.
“Human beings find it very difficult to accept death, whether they are inclined by nature to superstition or are very scientifically minded,” explains cultural anthropologist Takeo Funabiki. People can find expression of their grief in the form of rumors or rituals for the dead, he says. “The point is that it takes the shape of something that you can share with other people in your society.”