Haunted by trauma, tsunami survivors in Japan turn to exorcists

Tue Mar 5, 2013 1:29pm EST
 
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By Ruairidh Villar and Sophie Knight

HIGASHI-MATSUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) - The tsunami that engulfed northeastern Japan two years ago has left some survivors believing they are seeing ghosts.

In a society wary of admitting to mental problems, many are turning to exorcists for help.

Tales of spectral figures lined up at shops where now there is only rubble are what psychiatrists say is a reaction to fear after the March 11, 2011, disaster in which nearly 19,000 people were killed.

"The places where people say they see ghosts are largely those areas completely swept away by the tsunami," said Keizo Hara, a psychiatrist in the city of Ishinomaki, one of the areas worst-hit by the waves touched off by an offshore earthquake.

"We think phenomena like ghost sightings are perhaps a mental projection of the terror and worries associated with those places."

Hara said post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might only now be emerging in many people, and the country could be facing a wave of stress-related problems.

"It will take time for PTSD to emerge for many people in temporary housing for whom nothing has changed since the quake," he said.

Shinichi Yamada escaped the waves that destroyed his home and later salvaged two Buddhist statues from the wreckage. But when he brought them back to the temporary housing where he lived, he said strange things began to happen.   Continued...

 
Fifty-six-year-old exorcist Kansho Aizawa (R) holds a spiritual cleansing ritual for a woman at a temporary house in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi prefecture, February 21, 2013, ahead of the second-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. REUTERS/Chris Meyers