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The definitive account of what happened why and above all how it felt when catastrophe hit Japan—by the Japan correspondent of The Times London and author of People Who Eat DarknessOn March 11 2011 a powerful earthuake sent a 120 foot high tsunami smashing into the coast of northeast Japan By the time the sea retreated than eighteen thousand people had been crushed burned to death or drownedIt was Japan’s greatest single loss of life since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki It set off a national crisis and the meltdown of a nuclear power plant And even after the immediate emergency had abated the trauma of the disaster continued to express itself in bizarre and mysterious waysRichard Lloyd Parry an award winning foreign correspondent lived through the earthuake in Tokyo and spent six years reporting from the disaster zone There he encountered stories of ghosts and hauntings and met a priest who exorcised the spirits of the dead And he found himself drawn back again and again to a village that had suffered the greatest loss of all a community tormented by unbearable mysteries of its own What really happened to the local children as they waited in the schoolyard in the moments before the tsunami? Why did their teachers not evacuate them to safety? And why was the unbearable truth being so stubbornly covered up? Ghosts of the Tsunami is an intimate account of an epic tragedy told through the accounts of those who lived through it It tells the story of how a nation faced a catastrophe and the struggle to find consolation in the ruins


10 thoughts on “Ghosts of the Tsunami

  1. says:

    ‘’By the time the party came to an end it was already becoming cloudy but there was no wind Not a single leaf was moving on the trees I couldn’t sense any life at all It was as if a film had stopped as if time had stopped It was an uncomfortable atmosphere not the atmosphere of an ordinary day’’ Sayomi Shito Friday 11 March 2011 A 91 earthuake strikes Japan 70km east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tohoku Its duration? 6 minutes It was the most powerful earthuake ever in the country triggering severe tsunami waves The result? 15 899 deaths 6 157 injured 2 529 people missing It caused nuclear accidents in the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and reminded us that we are the tiniest specks of dust when Nature decides to confront us This exceptional book by Richard Lloyd Parry describes the aftermath of the nightmare centred around the tragic loss of 74 children and 10 teachers of the Okawa Elementary School ‘’Do you know the number of missing children in each class Headmaster? Without looking at that piece of paper You don’t do you? You have to look at your piece of paper Our kids are they just a piece of paper? You don’t remember any of their faces do you?’’ From the very start of his chronicle Lloyd Parry makes the readers feel as if they’re actually experiencing every step of the terrifying disaster The descriptions of how he experienced the earthuake in Tokyo are extremely vivid and frightening We have constant earthuakes here in Greece and as a resident of Athens I have experienced uite a few strong ones but I can never get used to the phenomenon I simply can’t To go through an incident of this magnitude and duration is unimaginable However the actual terror and despair come later in the aftermath of the disaster and the victims of the tsunami ‘’ Itte kimasu’’‘’ Itte rasshai’’ How can one describe the agony of the parents who didn’t know their children’s whereabouts? Their unimaginable pain? Their despair of not having bodies to bury and find some form of closure? It is often unbearable to read From the strange uietness experienced by the mothers preceding the nightmare to the frantic search in the mud and debris the reader is reuired to have a strong stomach Where children are concerned every sense of detachment simply vanishes Yet the way the writer narrates the experiences is sensitive careful and deeply respectful There is no shock mongering no vulgarity Everything is handled with the utmost care and sincerity but still it is impossible not to yield in the face of the horror A horror caused by nature and humans alike in a nightmarish fellowship because of the negligence the criminal incompetence that cost the lives of children and the ordeal of waiting for your son and daughter to be washed ashore in whatever conditionJapan was the last country I’d expect this to happen but it did and this shows us that no one is immune to wrong decisions and stupidity ‘’Tohoku is associated with an impenetrable regional dialect a uality of eeriness and an archaic spirituality that are exotic even to the modern Japanese In the north there are secret Buddhist cults and old temples where the corpses of former priests are displayed as leering mummies There is a sisterhood of blind shamanesses who gather once a year at a volcano called Mount Fear the traditional entrance to the underworld’’ Stories of children’s bodies shedding tears of blood Priests who exorcised the spirits of the ones who met a tragic death and chose to reside in the bodies of the living in search of a connection with our world and possible with a sense of justice Hauntings were reported in the towns at home on the beaches Young and old spirits silhouettes covered in mud Frightening dreams unsettling feelings possessions dark figures disembodied eyes Lloyd Parry narrates the otherwordly experiences the spiritualistic history of Tohoku the destroyed graveyards temples and household altars the presence of the gaki the hungry ghosts of the vast Japanese tradition These parts of the book make it so uniue so powerful and one of those works that haunt you and stay with you foreverAlong with the chronicle of the disaster the writer inserts facts about his gradual familiarization with Japanese culture and daily life the patriarchy that is present even in the aftermath of terror the political games of power It is a dark journey for the reader you will walk down the path with a heavy heart but it is a route we need to follow to understand how insignificant we are against Mother Nature to change our ways to start thinking clearly Or just start THINKING because it seems we are incapable of even that ‘’Once the water has retreated how much did you have left? When you’ve got the truth in your hand what are you going to do with it?’’ My reviews can also be found on


  2. says:

    Remarkable reportage from a writer of deep empathy and compassion It's clear that Parry is very familiar with Japan There just arent that many non native Japanese speakers who could have conducted these interviews which must have reuired such sensitivity and such an appreciation for how language works in Japanese conversation Parry is also an incredible writer In addition to chronicling the tsunami and its aftermath he also manages to give non Japanese readers a strong understanding of Japanese culture and of the way the culture shaped how survivors grieved and coped


  3. says:

    This is a heartbreaking story about the disasters that struck Japan on March 11 2011 I enjoyed Richard Lloyd Parry’s investigative journalism writing style He does not shy away from the emotions of grief and loss even though the Japanese are very reserved Richard Lloyd Parry chooses to focus on the tsunami and what happened when small towns along Japan’s coastline were inundated with seawater the huge loss of life and the psychological impacts of living in the aftermath of such a disaster Parry writes knowledgeably about the tsunami disaster that follows the 90 magnitude earthuake in particular about the Okawa school where the loss of the lives of school aged children was uniue As a British foreign correspondent for ‘The Times of London Parry had lived in Tokyo for many years Parry digs into the personal lives of the parents whose children died in the tsunami Before the tsunami eleven year old Chisato the youngest daughter of Sayomi Shito has a dream in which her school is gone caused by a big earthuake On March 11th 2011 Sayomi takes her son Kenya to the middle school for a graduation ceremony His school is right across the road from Okawa Elementary School where his sister Chisato is in class and when Kenya’s ceremony is over Sayomi gives some thought to picking her up from school rather than letting her ride the bus home At the end of the ceremony Sayomi says the day had grown cloudy and windless Sayomi has an intuition that this is an unusual day but she uells her feelings of unease and doesn’t pick Chisato up from schoolOf the than 18000 dead only 75 of them were children 74 of them were from the Okawa Elementary School Parry writes with sensitivity about this tragic event I have read one review by Roland Kelts author of Japanamerica How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US that compared Parry's style of writing in this book with Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and while I would not go that far I did find this to be highly readable and the experience of the Japanese parents relatable They place a great deal of importance on their children and their dreams for their childrenHere is the link to Kelt's review


  4. says:

    On March 11 2011 an earthuake shook Japan; but the earthuake was just the beginning of the natural disaster that would kill 18500 people that day the largest loss of life since atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 The earthuake sent a 120 foot tsunami crashing into the coast of northeast Japan crushing and drowning people in its path Ultimately this tsunami created a massive crisis in Japan when it was discovered that there had also been a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant In his stunning book Ghosts of the Tsunami Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone author and journalist Richard Lloyd Parry who had been living in Tokyo for some time begins the book with a recap of his own thoughts and mood while sitting in his office on that March afternoon The documentation he provides is in the form of emails he sent to various people in his life Interestingly though not surprisingly he seemed unconcerned almost nonchalant at least at first which made it clear that his life in Japan left him accustomed to feeling the earth shake from time to time What he and the rest of the world were unaware of at that time was that soon after the earth shook a tremendous tidal wave was forming that would cause 200 billion in damage and loss of life This book is not written as a recap of the destruction that occurred; rather Mr Parry chose to focus on one particular swath of coastal land in the northeastern part of Japan the Tohoku Region He wrote of his first glimpse of the devastated coastline The scenes along four hundred miles of coast that morning resembled those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 but with water substituted for fire mud for ash the stink of fish and ooze for scorched wood and smoke But what ended up mesmerizing him he found at the site of the Okawa Elementary School in Fukushima It was at this school that 74 children and 10 teachers were swallowed up by the tsunami even though it was discovered that there had been ample time to evacuate the children to higher ground This failure to evacuate became a scandal because uestions were never satisfactorily answered by school officials and a lawsuit was filed which created tensions and divisions in the communityWere the officials negligent incompetent or ill prepared? But Mr Parry chose not to focus on obtaining the answers to these uestions; rather he concentrated on the human stories the stories of loss and grief experienced by these families I found a couple of things captivating about this book In the past I have always found that fiction had the power to transport me to other places and times and to experience the lives of other people I have to say that this true story was rare in that it allowed me to immerse myself in a culture with which I was completely unfamiliar i read about the families of the children who were lost I read about the days weeks and months that went by with grief stricken parents tirelessly digging through layers and layers of mud and debris looking for their children or any scraps of their belongings which might prove to them that their children had been there that they had existed in than just their memories I was moved by their courage but found their calmness and composure in the face of such tragedy and sorrow unnerving I was startled by their self control when faced with education officials who had no answers as to why their children had been left to die in the tidal wave There were a couple of parents who briefly allowed their composure to slip and vented their frustration and anger at officials; but in my mind I was attempting to construct what such a meeting might look like in the United States I couldn't help but think about the images from Hurricane Katrina that devastated the Gulf Coast of the United States in 2005 the images of people trapped on their rooftops and stranded in the Super Dome sports complex in New Orleans the panic anger and despair that those images portrayed What I learned from Richard Parry is that especially in the rural parts of Japan which he refers to as a symbol of rural tradition there is often a stubbornly held belief that the PEOPLE are the servants of the state Perhaps that deeply ingrained belief did not permit parents to really push officials to receive answers to their uestions Perhaps it would have been considered improper I don't believe I could have maintained my OWN composure under those circumstances but I admit that I found a kind of beauty in the uiet dignity displayed by many of the parents and grandparents In the United States of course we hold the opposite view public officials are the servants of the PEOPLE The other fascinating aspect of the story told by Richard Parry was the amazing number of ghost sightings which occurred in the months after the tsunami these ghosts are of course alluded to in the title of the book I'm not sure what I believe about ghosts but Mr Parry provided background and an explanation which ultimately made these ghostly experiences seem a natural conseuence of the disaster Almost immediately people began describing ghost sightings ghosts of family friends and strangers were seen at home at workplaces and in public spaces The earthuake and tsunami seemed to have opened the veil which separates the living from the dead An old woman appeared at a neighbor's home for tea and the neighbors didn't have the heart to inform her that she had died A man reported seeing the eyes of deceased strangers in puddles after a rainstorm Cab drivers reported being asked to deliver fares to non existent addresses by people who were present in the car one moment but vanished in the next moment The chief priest at a Buddhist temple Reverend Kaneda described the massive number of reuests he had received to perform exorcisms At first glance it seemed that Mr Parry was perhaps describing a kind of old world superstition; but what he was relating was what had been considered the true 'faith' of Japan over the years the 'cult of the ancestors' or ancestor worship Although Japanese people often describe themselves as non religious according to Mr Parry many homes in Japan have household altars on displayThese altars butsudan hold memorial tablets ihai which are constructed of black polished wood and are inscribed with gold On these altars are offerings of flowers fruit drinks and incense Many Japanese have a kind of contract with their deceased ancestors The descendants provide gifts of food and prayers and in return they believe their ancestors will bestow good fortune upon them There is also the belief that when people die violently or suddenly or in anguish they are at risk of becoming hungry ghosts gaki All of these beliefs are accompanied by rituals; but so many people died in the tsunami and often the family members who remained were not in a physical or emotional position to carry out the rituals many were homeless and grief stricken And in some cases the tsunami left no descendants behind to carry out the rituals for the ancestors So when thinking about the belief in ancestor worship it doesn't seem all that surprising or unreasonable to believe that these areas which were leveled by the tsunami and where thousands of people died suddenly and unexpectedly were also areas inundated with ghosts I think perhaps it is true that people see and experience what they EXPECT to see and experience And as religious scholar Herman Ooms writes in reference to Japanese society The dead are not as dead there as they are in our own society This book isn't one that spends a great deal of time describing the physical devastation of the land and the buildings after the earthuake and tsunami; rather it is one that compassionately attempts to describe and explain the traditional uiet dignity of rural Japanese villages which sometimes appeared as if they had been lost to the passage of time Richard Lloyd Parry tells the story of self possessed people their trauma sorrow and their strong connection to all of those who went before them Highly recommendedSome images from the Japanese tsunamihttpswwwibtimescoukjapan tsuna


  5. says:

    This is a very good and rather unsettling account of the 2011 tsunami in Japan and its aftermath The story mainly focuses on the seventy four student deaths at Okawa Elementary school only four children survived and what happened to them The story pulls in so many different threads personal social cultural and political It's a fascinating and heartbreaking taleI am drawn to tsunami stories especially this particular one In 2011 I was in an oceanfront condo on the Big Island of Hawaii with my husband my sister and her family watching TV when the news came through that a magnitude 9 earthuake had just struck Japan If you know anything at all about earthuakes and how they are measured you know that a magnitude 9 earthuake is almost unheard of The destructive earthuakes typically have magnitudes between about 55 and 89; the scale is logarithmic and a difference of one represents an approximate thirtyfold difference in magnitude In short a 9 is a nuclear bomb of an earthuake If you are a freuent visitor to the Hawaiian Islands you know to pay very close attention to earthuakes in the Pacific basin We immediately started packing and sure enough 30 minutes later the tsunami sirens started up We had plenty of time to clear out the waves would take hours to arrive but it was terrifying nonetheless We spent the night in our rental car in a shopping mall parking lot with hundreds of other people while we waited for the tsunami to arrive It would arrive in the dark in the early dawn hours and there was nothing we could do but sit in the car washed out in eerie sodium lights and listen to the sirens wail When we were finally allowed back into the tsunami zones the next afternoon we were deeply relieved to find the condo had been completely spared but other places on the Big Island were not so lucky There are places eg Kona Village resort that were so devastated that they have never reopened Nevertheless the scope of damage was miniscule compared to what happened to Japan More than 18000 people died in Japan crushed burned to death or drowned per the author with many never recovered To this day artifacts from the Japan tsunami wash up on Hawaiian beaches Very eerieSo anyway there's my slim thread of personal attachment to that event and the source of my subseuent obsession I have since watched many videos of the Japanese tsunami spellbound by the sight of the ocean waves turning into something unrecognizable Lloyd Parry describes it so very well The tsunami was a thing of a different order darker stranger massively 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 throatIt stank of brine mud and seaweed Most disturbing of all were the sounds it generated as it collided with and digested the stuff of the human world the crunch and sueal of wood and concrete metal and tile In places a mysterious dust billowed above it like the cloud of pulverized matter that floats above a demolished building It was as if neighborhoods villages whole towns were being placed inside the jaws of a giant compressor and crushedGhosts of the Tsunami is delivered in a rather journalistic manner by which I mean that the author's style is somewhat removed and detached and he is reporting the facts of what happened For me it lost some emotional impact being told in that fashion Lloyd Parry is in fact an editor and Tokyo bureau chief of the London Times so it makes sense that his reporter chops are showing This book is very well written and meticulously researched I highly recommend itOn a side note if you are interested in tsunamis and the human toll of their devastation I also recommend Sonali Deraniyagala's Wave Deraniyagala lost her entire family in the Christmas Day 2004 tsunami in Indonesia Devastating and unforgettable


  6. says:

    The March 2011 earthuake was the biggest ever known to have struck Japan and the fourth most powerful in the history of seismology It knocked the earth six and a half inches off its axis and along with the resulting tsunami caused over 210 billion of damage Worst of all it was responsible for the deaths of over 18500 Japanese people the greatest loss of life in the country since the atomic bombings of 1945Richard Lloyd Parry a British journalist was working in Tokyo at the time of the uake In this book he travels to the north east of the country to meet with survivors who lost loved ones in the disaster He focuses in particular on the small community of Okawa where 74 children in the local primary school were killed by the tsunamiThe grief of the affected families is almost unbearable to read about Their children never came home from a routine day at school and it is impossible for their parents to accept In many cases they can't even find the body to bury One mother Naomi Hiratsukas learns to use a digger in the hope that she will one day locate her child among the endless debris The destruction the wave has caused is staggering to behold A local worker describes the hellish landscape he encountered in the days after the tsunami What stays in my memory is pine trees and the legs and arms of children sticking out from under the mud and rubbishLloyd Parry writes with such sensitivity and compassion throughout He talks about his intense emotional conversations with the parents of the deceased children and at times becomes overwhelmed by their sadness Grief was in their noses like a stench; it was the first thing they thought of when they woke in the morning and the last thing in their minds as they went to sleep at night He describes his difficulty in reporting the scale of the tragedy The events that constituted the disaster were so diverse and so vast in their implications that I never felt that I was doing the story justice It was like a huge and awkwardly shaped package without corners or handles however many different ways I tried it was impossible to hoist it off the ground But he is also brilliant at evoking the sheer force of that terrifying wall of water Something is moving across the landscape as if it is alive a brown snouted animal hungrily bounding over the earth Its head is a scum of splintered debris; entire cars bob along on its back It seems to steam and smoke as it moves; its body looks less like water or mud than a kind of solid vapour And then a large boat intact spinning across the inundated fields with orange flames dancing on their roofs The creature turns a road into a river then swallows it whole and then it is raging over fields and roads towards a village and a highway thick with cars One driver is accelerating ahead of it racing to escape – before the car and its occupants are gobbled up by the wave I found Ghosts of the Tsunami a harrowing read You really feel the grief of the families involved and understand that most of them will never recover from the events of that day But this is an important book written with such grace and reverence it is an insightful intimate and haunting account of a devastating tragedy


  7. says:

    Incredibly moving telling of the 2011 earthuake that sent a 120 foot tsunami over the northeast coast of Japan Parry’s writing brings the events and people to life with all the anxieties despair anger and sorrow imaginable I found the Reverend Taio Kaneta’s description of his experiences poignant and profoundly spiritual Here is an example of his thoughts “We realised that for all we’d learned about religious ritual and language none of it was effective in facing what we saw all around us This destruction that we were living inside it couldn’t be framed by the principles and theories of religion Even as priests we were close to the fear that people express when they say we see no god we see no Buddha here I realised then that religious language was an armor that we wore to protect ourselves and that the only way forward was to take it off” He would be observed by the author sitting apart with one person in private and visibly tearful conversation Not a one had rarely been conscious of human suffering Highly recommended reading on the aftermath of an epic tragedy


  8. says:

    These are the rough facts It was the biggest earthuake ever known to have struck Japan and the fourth most powerful in the history of seismology It knocked the Earth ten inches off its axis; it moved Japan four feet closer to America In the tsunami that followed 18500 people were drowned burned or crushed to death At its peak the water was 120 feet high Half a million people were driven out of their homes Three reactors in the Fukushima Dai ichi power station melted down spilling their radioactivity across the countryside the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl The earthuake and tsunami caused than 210 billion of damage making it the most costly natural disaster everIf you wanted and how could you not want to actually see what happened there is plenty of YouTube video showing this mass which is both slow and fast simultaneously crumbling buildings like so many sand castles So inexorable is it that you want to yell at the cameraman to get the hell awayThis book attempts to put faces to the moment and to the subseuent grief It also purports to expose how Japanese culture is imbued in the institutions which treat disastersRichard Parry follows the aftermath A mother learns to operate a backhoe and searches for years for her missing daughter Other survivors search through the legal system public meetings psychics and priests It's a compelling story if limited by a journalistic template Notepad in hand some people will talk to you and others will tell you to go to hell Truth is not only found in the spoken word But when a Buddhist priest puts on a Thelonious Monk CD and begins to reflect it is wise to listen We realized that for all we had learned about religious ritual and language none of it was effective in facing what we saw all around us This destruction that we were living inside it couldn't be framed by the principle and theories of religion Even as priests we were close to the fear that people express when they say 'We see no God we see no Buddha here' I realized then that the religious language was an armor that we wore to protect ourselves and that the only way forward was to take it off


  9. says:

    Ghosts of the Tsunami is the tale of the human toll that resulted from the powerful 2011 earthuake that rocked Japan and the subseuent tsunami that killed thousands of people It is told through the eyes of a small town in northern Japan with a focus on its elementary school and the mystery of what happened there that led to the deaths of 74 students and 10 teachers when safety was only a few steps away I found the story surrounding the elementary school to be fascinating Parry's writing brings humanity to the suffering and grief of the parents of the schoolchildren as they battle to figure out what happened while trying to move forward with their lives Parry also includes some background on Japanese culture including ancestor worship and gaman which helps to explain some of what happened afterwards and the extra layer of pain the survivors have to contend withWhat I didn't enjoy is the supernatural themes and stories in this book Even though the book title has the word ghost in it I assumed it was figurative so having literal ghosts in the story really threw me off I didn't uite know what to make of those passages especially the ones of philosophical ramblings with priests For me these didn't add anything to the story and I would have preferred if they had been cut out altogetherStill this is a worthy read The story is so moving and heartbreaking bringing words and humanity to an otherwise unspeakable tragedy I'm glad I picked it up


  10. says:

    What better author to write about this unthinkable tragedy than Parrya London news correspondent who has lived most of his adult life in Japan and because of his deep understanding of the Japanese culture could delve into the feelings and responses of the people who survived this horrorOn March 11 2011 following a number of earthuakes an almost monthly occurrence in Japan a 125 foot tsunami struck the north east coast of Japan taking with it 18500 lives The author concentrates on the small fishing village of Kamaya which was located on a river several miles from the ocean and especially on the Okawa Middle School where 74 of the 78 students perished The weather officials warned the residents and advised them to take to higher ground but even they did not realize the magnitude of this killer wave Most people ignored the warning until it was too late and the entire village was wiped from the face of the earthThe author concentrates on the Middle School and the disastrous decision made by the teachers not to lead the children up the high hill directly behind the school Children were begging the teachers to go up the hill but instead they decided to head toward the village for some unknown reason and were immediately swept away Three students and a teacher survived by ignoring that decision and climbing the hill insteadThe author concentrates the second half of this book on his interviews and friendships with the parents of those children who died and his understanding of the Japanese mind set helps the reader sympathize with what the families were feeling although the Western reader might not understand their reactionsThis is a haunting book which will stay with you long after you have reached the last page