More and more victims of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake are reporting that they are suffering from visions of ghosts and other supernatural sensations.
The disaster brought many people face-to-face with death and many believe the apparitions may be a manifestation of their emotional wounds.
As Japan has no governmental office that deals with this kind of issue and many people feel uncomfortable consulting family members, leaders from several different religious organizations in Japan have come together to provide emotional and mental support for the victims.
An elderly couple living in temporary housing in Sendai, the largest city in Tohoku to be impacted by the disaster, went to visit to a local Jōdo Buddhist temple earlier this month. After exchanging greetings with head priest Mizuki Nakamura, the couple confessed they were troubled by something they felt was supernatural and they didn’t know who to turn to for help.
“There’s someone at the temporary housing grounds. We think that something may have happened there,” said the husband.
Mr. Nakamura offered to hold a mass for the dead at the grounds and after completing the ritual the couple thanked him with an expression of relief.
Many victims report seeing more vivid images, such as eyeballs appearing in puddles of water or people walking on the surface of the ocean.
Others say that they’ve been visited by the ghosts of missing family members, begging to find their bodies and give them a proper burial.
However, like the elderly couple in Sendai, many of these people don’t know how to cope with such problems.
The Sendai branch of the United Christ Church (UCC) in Japan currently provides emotional support services regardless of religious affiliation. “The government can’t do anything about it and it’s difficult to discuss the issue with family or other people in the neighborhood,” says Reverend Naoya Kawakami.
Working together the UCC church is head priest Taiou Kaneda of Tsudaiji Temple in Miyagi prefecture, who adds: “Regardless if they are real or not, these people are seeing apparitions. We weren’t prepared to lose all of those lives. Religion must patiently give counsel to these people until they can accept the death of their family and friends, until they can lift their heads up again.”
The two are a part of the Miyagi Prefecture Religious Institution Liaison Council, which provides telephone consultation services with monks and priests of several different Buddhist and Christian sects.
Mr. Kaneda urges anyone to call freely for disaster-related support in general, not just supernatural issues.
At the invitation of the neighborhood council head, Reverend Kawakami and Mr. Kaneda visited a temporary housing settlement in Sendai last September to give a lecture on the issue to residents.
“Many people passed away, so it is natural for you to see their apparitions. Please do not be scared,” spoke Mr. Kaneda. “This can also become an opportunity for you to take a moment and think about life and death for yourself. You should make this a first step towards moving forward in this life.”
In Ishinomaki city, Miyagi Prefecture, Christian priests and Buddhist monks of the same organization held an informal discussion at a Buddhist temple on Christmas day. Organizers believed the location and time made it easier for residents to get together.
And since the Liaison Counsel holds no particular affiliations, people feel much more comfortable discussing their issues with them than they do with government officials.
Mr. Kaneda comments: “There are no sects or churches when we are faced with the wreckage of our own homes and doctrines hold no water before the absurdity of nature.”
The Miyagi Prefecture Religious Institution Liaison Council can be reached via free dial at 0120-828-645, Wednesday and Sunday from 3-10pm.