In a quite literally haunting article in the London Review of Books, author Richard Lloyd Parry has written about one stunning emotional and psychic toll of the 2011 tsunami: an epidemic of ghostly presences. He begins:

I met a priest in the north of Japan who exorcised the spirits of people who had drowned in the tsunami. The ghosts did not appear in large numbers until later in the year, but Reverend Kaneda’s first case of possession came to him after less than a fortnight. He was chief priest at a Zen temple in the inland town of Kurihara. The earthquake on 11 March 2011 was the most violent that he, or anyone he knew, had ever experienced. The great wooden beams of the temple’s halls had flexed and groaned with the strain. Power, water and telephone lines were fractured for days; deprived of electricity, people in Kurihara, thirty miles from the coast, had a dimmer idea of what was going on there than television viewers on the other side of the world. But it became clear enough, when first a handful of families, and then a mass of them, began arriving at Kaneda’s temple with corpses to bury.

Nearly twenty thousand people had died at a stroke. In the space of a month, Kaneda performed funeral services for two hundred of them. More appalling than the scale of death was the spectacle of the bereaved survivors. ‘They didn’t cry,’ Kaneda said to me a year later. ‘There was no emotion at all. The loss was so profound and death had come so suddenly. They understood the facts of their situation individually – that they had lost their homes, lost their livelihoods and lost their families. They understood each piece, but they couldn’t see it as a whole, and they couldn’t understand what they should do, or sometimes even where they were. I couldn’t really talk to them, to be honest. All I could do was stay with them, and read the sutras and conduct the ceremonies. That was the thing I could do.’

I found the entire article mesmerizing. The address is http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n03/richard-lloydparry/ghosts-of-the-tsunami –which works if you copy the url into your search, but does not work as a link from here. My apologies. Another mystery.

Many thanks to Robert McLuhan, who blogs at Paranormalia, for his “Post-traumatic Post-mortem,” which led me to the LRB original. As always, McLuhan’s discussion is as compelling as its source. (Paranormalia is one of my standard reads.) You can find his post here; you might even like to subscribe. (And from his site the link seems to work. Odd, that.)