In the fourth episode of Netflix’s newest season of Unsolved Mysteries, Kiyoshi Kanebishi, a Japanese sociologist specializing in disaster tells us, “I don’t really believe in ghosts. I’m not the type of person who would see them.” And honestly, same. Many so-called paranormal sightings are so obviously manufactured it’s tough not to get a bit cynical over the whole idea. But then you see something like this show, and, uh, it makes you question yourself. Repeatedly.
As Unsolved Mysteries depicts, on March 11, 2011, an earthquake caused a massive tsunami that hit the Tōhoku region of Northeastern Japan, and in its wake it stole nearly 20,000 lives. In Ishinomaki, a town within the region, the trauma was intense and immediate. No one had been prepared for the scale of the disaster.
The tsunami reached 131 feet at its peak; it swept away not only thousands of people but their homes and memories, too—photographs, books and altars. And though the episode doesn’t mention it, the fallout only got worse from there: The earthquake triggered a nuclear meltdown at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi reactors, the most severe such meltdown since Chernobyl. All of this together created a dramatic vacuum for grief to settle in, which Unsolved Mysteries explores in detail.
What the show doesn’t delve into is some of the stranger happenings that took place after the disaster. Yes, there were many reported ghost sightings—far more than after other disasters, natural or otherwise, in Japan, such as the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But many of the ghosts described on the show were simply adrift, not angry. That wasn’t always the case in reality.
There were several more violent possessions than those depicted in the show.
In his book, Ghosts of the Tsunami, Richard Lloyd Parry, a Tokyo-based journalist for The Times of London, reported on this phenomenon. His stories are wide and far-reaching, many of them more unsettling than the fairly commonplace ghost stories depicted in Unsolved Mysteries. Sure, there was a sighting of a lone woman standing in the middle of nowhere, wearing a scarlet dress. There was an old neighbor who’d allegedly appear in her friends’ homes and leave a saltwater stain on the cushion where she sat. But perhaps most shockingly, there was a builder—Parry gives him the name Takeshi Ono—who says he was possessed.
He’d growl like a beast, roll in the mud outside his house, stare at figures walking past his home. He’d turn repeatedly on his family, snarling, “Drop dead! Everyone else is dead, so die!” For answers, he went to Reverend Kaneta, the lovely, friendly-looking monk who appears in Unsolved Mysteries.
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