Hijika­ta explained the pol­i­tics of ghosts to me, as well as the oppor­tu­ni­ty and the risk they rep­re­sent­ed for the peo­ple of Tohoku. ‘We realised that so many peo­ple were hav­ing expe­ri­ences like this,’ he said, ‘but there were peo­ple tak­ing advan­tage of them. Try­ing to sell them this and that, telling them: “This will give you relief.”’ He met a woman who had lost her son in the dis­as­ter, and who was trou­bled by a sense of being haunt­ed. She went to the hos­pi­tal: the doc­tor gave her anti-depres­sants. She went to the tem­ple: the priest sold her an amulet, and told her to read the sutras. ‘But all she want­ed,’ he said, ‘was to see her son again. There are so many like her. They don’t care if they are ghosts – they want to encounter ghosts.’ ‘Giv­en all that, we thought we had to do some­thing. Of course, there are some peo­ple who are expe­ri­enc­ing trau­ma, and if your men­tal health is suf­fer­ing then you need med­ical treat­ment. Oth­er peo­ple will rely on the pow­er of reli­gion, and that is their choice. What we do is to cre­ate a place where peo­ple can accept the fact that they are wit­ness­ing the super­nat­ur­al. We pro­vide an alter­na­tive for help­ing peo­ple through the pow­er of lit­er­a­ture.’ Hijika­ta revived a lit­er­ary form which had flour­ished in the feu­dal era: the kaidan, or ‘weird tale’. Kaidankai, or ‘weird tale par­ties’, had been a pop­u­lar sum­mer pas­time, when the deli­cious chill impart­ed by ghost sto­ries served as a form of pre-indus­tri­al air con­di­tion­ing. Hijikata’s kaidankai were held in mod­ern com­mu­ni­ty cen­tres and pub­lic halls. They would begin with a read­ing by one of his authors. Then mem­bers of the audi­ence would share expe­ri­ences of their own: stu­dents, house­wives, work­ing peo­ple, retirees. He organ­ised kaidan-writ­ing com­pe­ti­tions, and pub­lished the best of them in an anthology.

Richard Lloyd Par­ry · Ghosts of the Tsuna­mi · LRB 6 Feb­ru­ary 2014

This is an amaz­ing piece on death, dis­as­ter, grief, reli­gion and the super­nat­ur­al that I would expect to read in Fortean Times, not the Lon­don Review of Books. The pas­sages high­light­ed here remind­ed me of the film Kwaidan, which I first learned about thanks to it being list­ed as a source of inspi­ra­tion for the out­stand­ing indie role­play­ing game Dogs in the Vine­yard. Hat tip: Justin Pickard.

Published by

Kars Alfrink

Kars is a designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.