Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone

Rate this book
On 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake sent a 120-foot-high tsunami smashing into the coast of north-east Japan. By the time the sea retreated, more than 18,500 people had been crushed, burned to death, or drowned.

It 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 ways.

Richard Lloyd Parry, an award-winning foreign correspondent, lived through the earthquake in Tokyo, and spent six years reporting from the disaster zone. There he encountered stories of ghosts and hauntings. He met a priest who performed exorcisms on people possessed by the spirits of the dead. And he found himself drawn back again and again to a village which 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 school playground 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 a classic of literary non-fiction, a heart-breaking and intimate account of an epic tragedy, told through the personal accounts of those who lived through it. It tells the story of how a nation faced a catastrophe, and the bleak struggle to find consolation in the ruins.

276 pages, Hardcover

First published August 31, 2017

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Richard Lloyd Parry

8 books289 followers
Richard Lloyd Parry was born in north-west England, and has lived since 1995 in Tokyo, where he is the Asia Editor of The Times newspaper of London. He has reported from twenty-eight countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq and North Korea. In 2005, he was named the UK's foreign correspondent of the year. He has also written for Granta, the New York Times and the London Review of Books.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
2,093 (42%)
4 stars
2,057 (41%)
3 stars
665 (13%)
2 stars
97 (1%)
1 star
18 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 710 reviews
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,844 followers
January 30, 2019
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 required 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.
Profile Image for Libby.
581 reviews157 followers
January 3, 2020
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 9.0 magnitude earthquake, in particular about the Okawa school, where the loss of the lives of school-aged children was unique. 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 earthquake. 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 quells her feelings of unease and doesn’t pick Chisato up from school.

Of the more than 18,000 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 U.S. 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 children.

Here is the link to Kelt's review:

Profile Image for Max.
343 reviews310 followers
September 27, 2021
It was the biggest earthquake 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, 18,500 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 earthquake and tsunami caused more than $210 billion of damage, making it the most costly natural disaster ever.

None of the 18,500 deaths were due to radiation. Few were killed by the earthquake. All but 100 of the 18,500 died in the water. This is not a story of the failure of the nuclear power plants, the news I saw leading the headlines about the earthquake and tsunami. Parry reports on the victims and communities hit by the tsunami far from the nuclear reactors, but at the forefront of disaster. He focuses on the children at the Okawa Elementary School, their families, the teachers and staff and the surrounding communities. Of the school’s 108 children, 78 were still there with 11 teachers when the tsunami struck. Of those still there 4 students and one teacher survived. The school and adjacent village of Kamaya were swept away leaving only mud and rubble. None of those at home in the village when the tsunami struck survived.

The school staff were unprepared for a tsunami. Many thought the school was too far inland for a tsunami to reach. But the school was barely above sea level and next to a river leading to a bay where the tsunami struck with full force. Everyone in the area was familiar with earthquakes and knew that tsunamis resulted. Tsunami response was a part of the school’s disaster plan, but it was vaguely worded. All the students were led outside after experiencing the violent earthquake, but then confusion reigned among the teachers. Power failed. Communications were cut off. Seven minutes before the tsunami hit, a city truck with loudspeakers drove by blaring the warning that a massive tsunami was imminent and to get to higher ground immediately. The lead staff member made a bad decision and led the students and other teachers in the wrong direction.

Parry was a reporter for The Times (London) in Tokyo in 2011 when the tsunami struck. He had been in Japan since 1995 and knew the language and customs well. He would end up visiting the disaster area and reporting on the aftermath for six years culminating in this book. He interviewed survivors and gathered other reporting and documents to piece together exactly what happened at the school that day. That story is compelling. But much of the book is about what transpired after the disaster. Parry talks with the surviving family members that lost sons, daughters, siblings, parents and other loved ones. The grief and anger were overwhelming. Parry records person by person the heartbreak, the irreparable sense of loss, the resulting toll of depression and mental disorders.

Thousands were left homeless with nothing. Parry highlights the amazing capacity of the Japanese to cooperate and face their circumstances with dignity.
Naturally, invisibly, without fuss or drama, order crystalized in the chaos of the evacuation centers. Space was allocated, bedding was improvised, and food was pooled, prepared and distributed. Rosters, for fetching, fixing, cleaning, and cooking were quickly established and filled. Everything was eased by the instinctive Japanese aversion to anything that could be judged messy, selfish, or otherwise antisocial...There was no significant looting; despite the chronic shortages of everything from gas to toilet paper, no one took the opportunity of scarcity to raise their prices. I never saw fighting or squabbling or disagreement…I pictured a school gymnasium in northeast England, rather than in northeast Japan, in which hundreds of people were sleeping literally head to toe. By this stage they would have been murdering one another.

In this rural area of simple folk in northeastern Japan far from the bustle of modern Tokyo we see how the prevailing culture shapes their response. While organized religion has relatively little influence on Japanese life, the heritage of Buddhism and Shinto leave what Perry describes as “the cult of the ancestors”. By this he means the belief that a person’s children are not only essential to their parents old age and death but to their afterlife. The tsunami took some families completely with none surviving. Other people lost all their children and some all their close relatives too leaving them completely alone. Many turned to mediums to communicate with those who died. Others saw ghosts, even felt ghosts were taking over their bodies. Local priests tried to comfort those in need. Perry particularly covers a Buddhist priest, Kaneta, who performed over 200 funerals of the victims. He also performed many exorcisms to help those afflicted by ghosts. Parry’s descriptions of these are gripping. In discussions with Parry, Kaneta came across as very wise and skilled in working with those suffering, but eventually he too wore down as a caregiver and had to isolate himself. When Kaneta returned, he said “…religious ritual and language, none of it was effective in facing what we saw around us. The destruction that we were living inside…I realized then that religious language was an armor to protect ourselves, and that the only way forward was to take it off.”

At local meetings with officials following the disaster grieving parents broke completely with Japanese norms of acceptance and respect. They revealed their raw emotions cursing and belittling officials they held responsible, something unheard of in Japan. Those who lost their children would not accept the vague deceptive government statements about what happened. They would avenge the death of their children. Parry follows the legal ramifications as parents sue the school administration. We learn about the legal system in Japan and the difficulty of taking on public institutions. While the structure seems the same as in the West, the practice and expectations are quite different.

In short, the book has three parts, a dramatic description of the earthquake and tsunami, a heartrending account of the emotional toll on the surviving families, and a sobering report of the family members trying to hold school officials accountable. But what stood out to me was the character of these rural self-reliant people: Strong, resourceful, resilient and always treating each other with decency and respect. One personal takeaway, If I am in an area where a tsunami warning has been issued, I will take it very seriously. A disturbing and fascinating read on many levels.
Profile Image for Darlene.
370 reviews132 followers
April 15, 2018
On March 11, 2011, an earthquake shook Japan; but the earthquake was just the beginning of the natural disaster that would kill 18,500 people that day... the largest loss of life since atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The earthquake 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 questions were never satisfactorily answered by school officials and a lawsuit was filed which created tensions and divisions in the community.Were the officials negligent, incompetent or ill-prepared? But Mr. Parry chose not to focus on obtaining the answers to these questions; 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 more 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 questions. 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 quiet 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 consequence 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 earthquake 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 requests 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 display.These 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 earthquake and tsunami; rather, it is one that compassionately attempts to describe and explain the traditional quiet 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 recommended.

Some images from the Japanese tsunami....

Profile Image for Dianne.
559 reviews906 followers
February 16, 2018
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 tale.

I 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 earthquake had just struck Japan. If you know anything at all about earthquakes and how they are measured, you know that a magnitude 9 earthquake is almost unheard of. The more destructive earthquakes typically have magnitudes between about 5.5 and 8.9; 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 earthquake. If you are a frequent visitor to the Hawaiian Islands, you know to pay very close attention to earthquakes 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 (e.g. 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 18,000 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 eerie.

So anyway - there's my slim thread of personal attachment to that event and the source of my subsequent 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 more 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 throat.

It 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 squeal 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 crushed."

"Ghosts 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 it.

On 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.
Profile Image for Peter Boyle.
489 reviews596 followers
November 11, 2018
The March 2011 earthquake 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 1945.

Richard Lloyd Parry, a British journalist, was working in Tokyo at the time of the quake. 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 tsunami.

The 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 rubbish."

Lloyd 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 more 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.
Profile Image for Yun.
513 reviews19.9k followers
January 19, 2019
Ghosts of the Tsunami is the tale of the human toll that resulted from the powerful 2011 earthquake that rocked Japan and the subsequent 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 with.

What 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 quite 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 altogether.

Still, 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.
Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,459 reviews105 followers
July 26, 2019
What better author to write about this unthinkable tragedy than Parry......a 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 horror.

On March 11, 2011, following a number of earthquakes (an almost monthly occurrence in Japan) , a 125 foot tsunami struck the north east coast of Japan, taking with it 18,500 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 earth.

The 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 instead.

The 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 reactions.

This is a haunting book which will stay with you long after you have reached the last page.
Profile Image for Tony.
906 reviews1,513 followers
December 6, 2018
These are the rough facts:

It was the biggest earthquake 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, 18,500 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 earthquake and tsunami caused more than $210 billion of damage, making it the most costly natural disaster ever.

If 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 away.

This book attempts to put faces to the moment, and to the subsequent grief. It also purports to expose how Japanese culture is imbued in the institutions which treat disasters.

Richard 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."

Profile Image for Paltia.
633 reviews86 followers
December 13, 2019
Incredibly moving telling of the 2011 earthquake 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 more conscious of human suffering. Highly recommended reading on the aftermath of an epic tragedy.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,086 reviews2,949 followers
April 23, 2023
4.0 Stars
I don't read a lot of nonfiction but this one was told in such an engrossing manner. The event was absolutely horrific and the account of the deaths, particularly the children, really disturbed me. The narrative is told through fact and personal accounts. The title is an interesting reference to the sighting that emerged in the aftermath as the survivors dealt it the trauma.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,603 reviews2,575 followers
June 7, 2018
Eighteen and a half thousand people died in the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011. It’s not really possible to get one’s head around a tragedy on that scale so, wisely, Parry focuses on a smaller story within the story. Seventy-four children died at Okawa primary school because the administration didn’t have a sufficient disaster plan in place. Instead of leading the children up the hill above the school, the teachers took them down the road to a roundabout and they were all soon washed away. Years later the parents of the dead children would bring a lawsuit against the school board, accusing it of negligence. A community that had at first been united in suffering while searching for corpses started to splinter apart: the parents of the dead resented the parents of the handful of survivors, and there were disagreements about the lawsuit. Standing up and shouting insults at officials during public hearings didn’t fit the stereotype of Japanese dignity and reserve, but desperation overruled all other concerns.

Like Wave, this is almost unbearably sad, but amid the overwhelming sense of loss the fragments of individual stories shine through: The mother who got a digger license so she could spend part of every day sifting through rubble for her daughter’s remains, the centenarian athlete who survived decades of life’s assaults only to be swept away in the tsunami, the bureaucrat who very nearly drowned but lived to tell the tale, the Zen Buddhist priest who was called on to perform many an exorcism. Japan is not a very religious country but, as Parry explains, its true religion may well be ancestor reverence, and with so many unsettled ghosts around after the disaster, a whole nation had to decide how to do right by the dead. You can be as skeptical as you like, but it’s hard to ignore these accounts of ghosts.

Parry, a long-time resident of Japan, was at work in Tokyo on the day the earthquake hit. The quake and its aftershocks, though serious, didn’t hit the city very hard, so it took a while for it to become clear just what the extent of the damage was elsewhere in the country. He spent six years researching and writing this book. It’s a stunning portrait of a resilient people, but it’s also a more universal story of the human spirit facing the absolute worst.

Favorite passages:

“this was the best of Japan, the best of humanity, one of the things I loved and admired most about this country: the practical, unsensational, irrepressible strength of communities.”

“There is no tidying away of loose ends to be done in a story about the deaths of young children, about the annihilation of a coast—only more stories to be told, and retold in different ways, and tested like radioactive material for the different kinds of meaning they give out. Stories alone show the way.”
Profile Image for Mikey B..
983 reviews363 followers
November 15, 2021
On March 11, 2011 a massive earthquake occurred in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan. In less than an hour a colossal tsunami reached the Japanese coast-line about 300 miles north of Tokyo.

This book recounts most poignantly what happened in the small village of Kamaya on Oppa Bay.

Page 136-37 (my book)

They (town officials from the village) were driving through the outer margins of Kamaya when Oikawa (a town official) became aware of something extraordinary taking place two miles ahead of them, at the point where the sea met the land. The place was Matsubara, the spit of fields and sand where a ribbon of pine forest grew alongside the beach. There were twenty thousand of the trees. They were a century old. Many of them were more than sixty feet high. And now, as Oikawa watched, the sea was overwhelming them, swallowing up their pointed green peaks and tearing up the forest in a frothing surge. “I could see the white of the wave, foaming over the top like a waterfall. I could see it with my own eyes. And there were cars coming in the other direction, and the drivers were shouting at us, “The tsunami is coming. Get out! Get out!” So we immediately made a U-turn…”

The above is cited as just one example of what this town experienced on that fateful afternoon. The town was literally obliterated. If one did not move to high ground your life would be wiped out by the huge waves carrying the detritus from everything in their path like huge piles of mud, uplifted trees, cars, trucks, houses with their contents. There was nothing to compare this to – at least in a fire or a bombing raid you have the shell of houses or streets left over – something recognizable – in this case nothing - just piles of mud littered with flotsam and jetsam – and dead bodies (or body parts).

The author delves into the vast array of feelings – the state of mind – of those impacted during and after the tsunami. At the heart of all this were the over seventy children who died at the elementary school that day. As can be imagined the parents and relatives of the children who died that day had their lives completely devastated. They grieve over loss that occurred so abruptly.

They seek many things – solace, revenge, explanations of the school authorities who could not save their children (this was the only school during the tsunami that was unable to save their children that day). There is a great deal of survivor guilt. Above all they want the truth.

Many conversations and town meetings over the following months reveal more and more what occurred. There is a tension that grows and festers- between those whose children survived and those who did not, between those who found the bodies of their children and those who did not, between those who searched for bodies in the mud and debris and those who did not or gave up.

This book is heartfelt and searing. The author brings us into the torment of this small village and its inhabitants. We also come away with a deeper understanding of Japanese culture and its manifestations – and how many of the “rules and traditions of behavior” were broken after that day.

Page 241 (a religious procession through the ruins by Buddhists, Shinto priests and Christians)

Kaneto (a Buddhist) and his group had intended to chant sutras and sing hymns… But here, among the mess and stench their voices failed them… "And when we got to the sea,” said Kaneta “when we saw sea – we couldn’t face it. It was as if we couldn’t interpret what we were seeing.” “We realized that, for all that we had learned about religious ritual and language, none of it was effective in facing what we saw 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 realized then that religious language was an armor that we wore to protect ourselves, and that the only way forward was to take it off.”

Page 245 Hijikata – a folklorist on survivors seeing or experiencing the ghosts of their dead children

He met a woman who had lost her son in the disaster, and who was troubled by the sense of being haunted. She went to the hospital; the doctor gave her antidepressants. She went to the temple; the priest sold her amulets and told her to read the sutras. “But all she wanted,” Hijikata 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.”

This book is eloquently written giving us piercing insights of the traumas experienced by the people of Kamaya Village.
Profile Image for Ammar.
448 reviews217 followers
December 22, 2017
One of the best reads of 2017. The author who is a journalist who lives in Japan, and who lived there during the Tsunami and the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. The book deals with the Tsunami. It brings various lives of victims, and their families and how they survived during the Tsunami and in its aftermath.

We readers go into the depth of the Japanese family, who is usually reserved and does not open up to strangers, and we get a rare glimpse into their psyche.

We read about bereaved parents, angry parents, shamed persons who couldn't help, and ordinary people who did their best to find those who were lost.

We meet women who faced society, who trained on heavy machinery to help find the dead.

We meet the ones who use mediums and priests, so they can communicate with their loved ones.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 33 books1,150 followers
October 24, 2017
My review for the Chicago Tribune:


In sheer scope, certain natural disasters outstrip all quantitative efforts to describe them. Undoubtedly, the data on the Tohoku earthquake can help to express the vastness of the catastrophe: On March 11, 2011, the most powerful earthquake recorded in Japan — 9.1 on the Richter scale — occurred 20 miles beneath the sea about 250 miles from Tokyo. The quake triggered a 120-foot tsunami that devoured the coast of northeast Japan, killing more than 18,000 people and causing Level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Past a certain point, though, such figures defy comprehension, and a more narrative and personalized approach is required to achieve real understanding of the human, environmental and monetary costs. Fortunately, Richard Lloyd Parry’s remarkably written and reported “Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone” provides such an account of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which caused “the greatest single loss of life in Japan since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945.”

A British author and an award-winning journalist who has lived in Tokyo since 1995 where he works as the Asia editor of The Times of London, Parry is the author of two previous books of nonfiction, including 2007’s “In the Time of Madness: Indonesia on the Edge of Chaos” and 2012’s true crime tale “People Who Eat Darkness” about the disappearance and murder of Lucie Blackman in Tokyo.

No stranger to covering distress and calamity, he turns his lucid journalistic gaze — as well as his mastery of plot and character — here on the events of that fatal March day. He mentions Fukushima, but concentrates on the tsunami itself, wisely finding an “exceptional tragedy” within the greater morass to give shape to what might otherwise remain overwhelming. Parry hones in on the Okawa Primary School, which — despite its frequent disaster preparedness drills and a 700-foot-tall hill behind the building — lost 74 of its 108 students and 10 of its 13 teachers and staff.

In a gripping fashion, Parry builds his account around solving the excruciating mystery that haunts the parents of those who were killed: “the earthquake had struck at 2:46 p.m. The hands of the school clock were frozen at 3:37 p.m., when the building’s electricity was quenched by the rising water. This was the central question of the Okawa tragedy: What exactly happened between the first event and the second? What was going on … for the last fifty-one minutes of its existence?”

In doing so, he produces a page-turner. In lesser hands, this tactic could seem ghoulish or exploitative — “an effort to squeeze spooky entertainment out of the tragedy.” But in Parry’s, the material gets assembled into a moving study of character and culture, love and loss, grief and responsibility.

Parry studs the story with gems of language and detail, like how in the remote part of the countryside worst hit by the wave, the local brand of rice is called “Love at First Sight,” and how in Japan, people rarely say sayonara as Westerners think, but more often use the phrase itte kimasu, “which means literally, ‘Having gone, I will come back,’ ” a grimly ironic turn of phrase, considering how many people never did.

He constructs the book as an exquisite series of nesting boxes of sorrow and compassion, giving readers the tale within the tale of Naomi, who becomes so determined to extract her daughter’s corpse from the ruins that she attends “a week-long course at a training center near Sendai” where “all the other participants were men” in order to earn her license to operate earth-moving equipment to up her chances of achieving her aim.

Reminiscent of John Hersey’s classic “Hiroshima,” a devastatingly calm and matter-of-fact look at the dropping of the world’s first atomic bomb, Parry recounts this story with a necessary balance of detachment and investment. Significantly, unlike Hersey, Parry was in Japan during the disaster he’s describing, and so he includes the occasional first-person experience in his multilayered account.

The result is a spellbinding book that is well worth contemplating in an era marked by climate change and natural disaster.
Profile Image for Shelley.
188 reviews52 followers
September 9, 2020
As a work of narrative non-fiction, I thought this was fine—not earth-shatteringly good but competently written.

The content, however, is very moving, and two things interested me in particular.

Japanese attitudes toward ghosts. Absolutely fascinating. (As a side note, I find Japanese horror films to be the scariest of them all.) The author describes the Japanese as one of the most "godless" people on the planet, yet ghost sightings are so common following tsunamis that Japanese academics feel compelled to research the phenomenon. Possibly it has something to do with the veneration of ancestors and the desire to continue telling the story of the loved one who was lost.

I was also very captivated by Japanese attitudes toward suffering, as they are quite different from those on display in the West. The author is somewhat critical of "Japanese quietism." In his view, the Japanese people's stoic approach to suffering can lead to fatalism and political complacency. I can see how this might be the case, but I confess that I found something beautiful and dignified in their reticence to complain, even in the midst of great tragedy. To cast aspersions on others is to behave in an unseemly way. Meanwhile, 21st century American culture seems to breed entitlement, sometimes turning us into ungrateful people who are quick to complain and shout down others. This book got me thinking about how to be a person who seeks truth and justice—with the other cheek turned, so to speak. Basically, it got me thinking about Jesus, which was not the author's intention but interesting to me nonetheless.
Profile Image for Amber .
334 reviews104 followers
December 28, 2020
This nonfiction book is written in such a poetic way that it makes the content even more powerful. My only criticism is that I found it a bit too long, even though it isn't a long book. I definitely recommend!
Profile Image for GoldGato.
1,139 reviews40 followers
November 24, 2017
March 11, 2011. It was a Friday and for some reason, I turned on the telly and became entranced by the footage of the Black Wave which seemed to be engulfing the east coast of Japan. It didn't seem to be real, rolling along determinedly and swallowing everything in its path. I immediately texted a co-worker to see if her family in Japan was okay, but like everyone else, all I could do was watch as cars vainly tried to outrun the implacable monster. In Japanese, "hell" is jigoku.

This book looks at that devastating tsunami and how it impacted so many towns and people. In particular, the author focuses on the Okawa school in which the teachers and administrators made the wrong decision at the wrong time.

The tsunami was a thing of a different order, darker, stranger, massively more 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 throat.

The tsunami was preceded by the offshore Tohoku Earthquake, which was the largest recorded in the Japanese area. It was the fourth most powerful quake and knocked the earth ten inches off its axis while moving Japan four feet closer to America. The massive quake produced a tsunami that, at its peak, was 120 feet high. The reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ici nuclear power plant melted down. It was the greatest disaster for Japan since WWII.

If you want to feel safe when a big quake hits, then Japan would be your best bet. The fragile land has been continuously beset by quakes, tsunamis, typhoons, fires, volcanoes, and landslides through the centuries and because of this the infrastructure is built to meet the expected catastrophe. The massive quake of 2011 didn't do as much damage as the same size quake would have done in California, for example. Japan understands it lives over an abyss.

The first thing you learn about Tokyo is that it won't be there for much longer.

Yet the quake was not to be the criminal in this case. The waves were coming. People who don't live in coastal hazard zones believe that a tsunami is one big wave. But we've been taught to look for at least three waves, each one building upon the previous wave, until even supposedly it-looks-safe-higher-ground gets deluged. Only a direct asteroid hit or a nuclear bomb explosion are more powerful than an angry tsunami. But the defenses of coastal Japan had seawalls and well-built homes and buildings. So when the local tsunami warnings were broadcast, not everyone ran. The buildings had not fallen, after all, so how bad could the waves be?

Okawa Elementary School sat near the Kitakami River, away from the ocean. Right behind the school, there is a hill. After the quake stopped, the teachers marched the children outside so they could be in the open space. They didn't know that the tsunami had overwhelmed the pine forest on the coastal shore. But they knew a tsunami was coming. Instead of marching the children up the hill, they were sent to the traffic island, where they walked straight into the oncoming wave. The river itself had become the catalyst for the oncoming waves to overwhelm everything. Of the children who had marched to doom, only two survived. They had turned around and ran up the hill. One teacher ran that way, too, and survived.

When the waters receded and the stunned parents tried to find their children, a tale of misconduct began to evolve. Here, the Japanese code of following orders and obeying the "manual" would come back to haunt the school's board and the surviving teacher. Their stories didn't add up and why didn't they just make for the safety of the hill as soon as they heard the tsunami warning?

Parry has written a terrific book that brings home the terror of facing such a disaster and how the surviving parents dealt with the guilt and anger. As you read, you just get overwhelmed by the losses. Parents who managed to drive to the school to pick up their children right after the quake...some survived, some didn't. The waves came in from all sides. Elderly grandparents who survived the quake and had gone to higher ground, then lost their lives in going back down to look for other family members. There were the heroic actions of the tsunami warning center crew, who stayed and continued broadcasting until, they too, were swallowed by the water. Drenched survivors who froze to death overnight on snow-laden ground. Heroes and victims. Parents who still want answers as to why their children could have lived if not for the mistakes of the school authorities. A magnificent book, well-written, well-researched, and thought-provoking.

Book Season = Winter (fugitive unease)

Profile Image for Andrea.
769 reviews30 followers
February 6, 2021
Fabulous book, but gut-wrenching at the same time.

Journalist Richard Lloyd Parry has lived in Japan for many, many years. He's experienced many earthquakes and tremors from his base in Tokyo, so when a cluster began in early March 2011 he didn't think much of it - ducking underneath his desk every now and then, and straightening the occasional picture frame. It was the same in the region of Tohoku, in the north-eastern part of Honshu, until the big quake came on March 11, followed by the devastating tsunami that took the lives of around 18,500 people across Japan.

Parry reported on events as they unfolded, and the aftermath, until about 6 months later when he visited a small community near the mouth of the Kitakami River - the site of Okawa Primary School.

If you are ever exposed to a violent earthquake, the safest place you could hope to be is Japan; and the best spot of all is inside a Japanese school...nowhere are precautions against natural disaster more robust than in state schools.

Except not in this case. Only a miniscule proportion of the deaths attributed to this disaster were of schoolchildren (something like 350 in total). Across Japan 75 children died in the care of their teachers that day; 74 of those were at Okawa Primary School.

Over the months and years following the disaster, Parry came to know many of the survivors in this community intimately. With sensitivity and restraint he tells the story of those saved and those lost, of a few who experience religious/supernatural phenomena, and most of all he tells the story of Okawa Primary School.
Profile Image for Katia N.
585 reviews658 followers
January 26, 2018
Tsunami has struck Japan on March 11, 2011 and took away the lives of more than 18,000 people. Almost half of them were the old and vulnerable. However, only around 4% were children under 15. It is a relatively small proportion which indicates the Japanese in general took seriously the wellbeing of their young ones. But 74 of these deaths took place just in a single school - Okawa elementary. In this book Richard Lloyd Parry gives the account how and why this happened.

But it is so much more than the dry investigative journalism. Parry had to balance the compassion with the detachment as only way of mentally surviving through writing the book and reporting from the disaster zone. He has done it absolutely masterfully.

The book is dealing with the grief, anger, Japanese character and even the relationship with Supernatural. It does so in extremely delicate, but honest way.

It somehow reminded me of "Lincoln in Bardo" on subconscious level.. Though it is totally different of course as it is non-fiction... Maybe, because the spirits play the role in both books, but there is more to it as both books are dealing with grief...

And his writing is gorgeous: whatever he writes about, you can feel yourself just in the middle of it all. I wish he would write a novel one day.
Profile Image for Colin.
1,364 reviews34 followers
January 9, 2020
Absolutely amazing book, this. I can't recommend it highly enough. It's an examination of the effects of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, seen through the lens of a single school, Okawa Primary School, where, through failures of planning and initiative, a large percentage of the children and almost all the teachers died. It's pretty harrowing of course, not so much for the scale of the tragedy, which is pretty familiar by now, but for the accounts of individuals, mainly bereaved parents. There were quite a lot of moments where I had to put the book down and recover myself because it was so upsetting.
But the author has gone beyond simply describing the events themselves. He clearly understands Japanese life and culture thoroughly, and by following through the investigation, he is able to shed some light on some aspects of culture that lead to bureaucratic inertia and a lack of political will to improve life. He does this with sensitivity and precision, with no sense that he is an arrogant outsider throwing stones at something he doesn't understand.
The final ingredient is the sense of the supernatural - or rather awareness of the Japanese belief in ghosts. How does a belief in ancestors existing after death affect parents whose children have been taken away? How does a belief in an ever-present afterlife affect a search for children who are still missing somewhere out at sea or in the rubble.
These strands are woven together with huge skill to make an immensely satisfying work of non-fiction. It's only the second week of January but I'm already pretty confident it'll be one of my top three books of the year.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,331 reviews118 followers
November 27, 2017
British journalist Parry was living in Tokyo when the 9.1 earthquake off the coast of northeast Japan took place in March of 2011. Earthquakes are frequent occurrences in Japan, so the country’s response was blasé at first. The initial tsunami warnings were also discounted—certainly there was no chance that a tsunami would advance two and half miles inland to reach the Okawa primary school. But, it did. The elders of the village did not believe such a tsunami was possible. The result was a feeble attempt to evacuate, resulting in the death of 74 of its 108 students; and 10 of its 11 teachers.
Parry focuses his attention on the school’s victims, their families, and the community at-large rather than the broad sweep of the destruction which resulted in 18,000 deaths. Nor does he address the damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This choice helps to personalize the tragedy in very human terms.
What he found was that a community can be brought together by catastrophe, but the balance of disaster is “never positive”. The inhabitants slowly fell to quarrelling, bitterness and envy—often in proportion to their loss. Many felt haunted by ghosts, and the local Buddhist priest and a Protestant pastor were asked to conduct exorcisms to rid themselves of these hauntings. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Denise.
6,458 reviews105 followers
September 27, 2019
The March 11, 2011, Tohoku earthquake and tsunami - the deadliest event in Japan since the atomic bomb that devastated Nagasaki - caused an immense and scarcely imaginable number of tragedies, taking the lives of more than 18,000 people. In this powerful, meticulously researched account of the disaster and its aftermath, Parry focusses in large part on one such particular tragedy, that of the Okawa Elementary School, where 74 children and 10 teachers were killed by the tsunami - in spite of the fact that there was plenty of warning, sufficient time to evacuate, and a safe place nearby to evacuate to. Only four children and a single teacher survived. Grieving parents spent years trying to get to the bottom of why their children died needlessly, and Parry follows their searches - for their childrens' remains, for answers, for justice - with compassion, deep insight into Japanese culture, and attention to detail. A heartbreaking book, and one impossible to put down.
Profile Image for Kolumbina.
818 reviews21 followers
April 4, 2018
Wow! What a book! And non-fiction!!!
An outstanding book written by a very mature writer/foreign corespondent about a very powerful earthquake in Japan in 2011 followed by tsunami. The story is concentrated on Okawa school where at the time of disaster more than 70 school children and 11 teachers died/disappeared.
Richard Lloyd Parry did a fantastic job, obviously he knows and understands Japan, Japanese culture, habits, traditions, emotions, religion, ...
A very rich book, very emotional, involving and unusual and at the same time wide and unexpected aspects of the horrible disaster and what happened after.
Brilliant!!!! 10* writer.
Profile Image for Fatima Alqassab .
84 reviews37 followers
May 31, 2020
“What does life mean, in the face of death!?”

This was my first read about the Tsunami disaster and it was heartbreaking one.
Profile Image for Noor Ali.
196 reviews77 followers
April 4, 2020
This book is about the Tsunami that took place in Japan in 2011. I wasn't too eager to start it but I'm glad I did, I was actually surprised that I ended up liking it.

I liked the author's narrative of what happened and the way he wrote the book, which could have been so boring considering the subjct matter if it was written by someone else.

He made me sympathize with the victims of this tragedy and actually care about the fates of complete strangers, which is something that rarely happens to me. He does it so subtly and not in tearjerking way which I usually despise in books of this type. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Iona Sharma.
Author 9 books111 followers
December 13, 2020
Fascinating and devastating account of the 2011 Japanese tsunami and how it affected one small community, and some of the reported supernatural phenomena that occurred alongside it. It's a quiet, journalistic book, not voyeuristic - it doesn't sensationalise the tsunami itself and then doesn't attempt to debunk or ridicule the ghost stories, but tells them as they were told to the author. It's beautifully written as well, without ever being self-consciously literary, and treats all its interview subjects with dignity.
Profile Image for Conor Ahern.
657 reviews189 followers
April 2, 2019
"Ghosts of the Tsunami" chronicles the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami. The fifth most powerful earthquake ever recorded killed a handful of people in seismically prepared Japan, but the water it dislodged wreaked unprecedented catastrophe, killing tens of thousands more.

While many communities on the east coast of Japan were devastated, a particular rural community had an entire generation of its children wiped out in a tragedy this book attempts to encircle. "Ghosts" is as much a compendium of the insuperable human tragedy of losing one's child (or children, for many) as it is an exploration of the peculiarities of Japanese culture viewed through this most macabre lens. It evoked a series of emotions out of proportion to its length, if not its object.

I read this, improbably, for my "bro" book club. We usually read pretty gritty stuff, but it's fictional grit, so it lacks heft. Most of the participants have young children, so I have to imagine this was a really difficult book for them, given how rough it was for me. But it came along at a good time--when you are moping around because you gave a lackluster interview, there is little that can better put into context how incredibly fortunate and lucky your fragile, cosseted life is than reading about parents sifting through tsunami muck for pieces of their children's bodies. This was haunting and beautifully written; I'm glad I read it, even if it was always uncomfortable and made me ineffably sad.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 710 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.