Japan is a land of natural wonders and unfortunate proximity to widespread natural disasters. It sits on a fault line that causes earthquakes, so much so that they are a usual occurrence and are reported as commonly as the weather.

And being a nation of islands, these earthquakes come with tsunamis – a word borrowed by most of the world directly from Japan due to the incredible frequency with which they receive them.

Each tsunami is damaging and devastating, despite being predictable. Some are far, far worse than others.

In 2011, a massive 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck the mainland near the coast and caused a tsunami in the town of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture.

It was one of the deadliest tsunamis in modern history for the nation and came at a massive toll of life, losses, and spiritual disturbance.

Just as Japan is a land of natural wonders and frights, its history and culture are abundant, with supernatural phenomena and paranormal disturbances.

10 /10 The Vanished Town

March 11, 2011, was the date on which the tidal wave hit the town of Ishinomaki. The water peaked at 131 feet above the average sea level, and all of that washed inland.

The city was devastated with nearly 20,000 casualties, many of whom were confirmed dead, and the remainder were missing and still are ten years later.

Homes, businesses, shrines, and altars – everything was swept away. It was a devastating nightmare for the region: but the town was considered a minor loss.

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9 /10 Fukushima Power Plant

The tsunami also reached the nearby nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

This caused a flood in the reactors and a breach of the failsafe, which caused back-to-back failures and caused a radiation leak that was declared the most severe nuclear facility accident since Chernobyl.

The scale was only increased due to the region-wide power outages, blocked roads, and the newly leaking radiation from the evacuated power plant. It turned a simple tragedy into a global one.

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8 /10 Ghost Town

The survivors and evacuees of Ishinomaki that returned to a broken town full of washed-away homes eventually tried to resettle there.

Over time, a worrying number of ghost sightings were reported. Not just by a few people or a loose group of people who believed in ghosts.

These reports were endemic and widespread and made by people of various levels of faith. The number of words and similarities between the sightings was enough to call on expert analysis.

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7 /10 The Haunted School

The Okawa Elementary School that was struck was the place where 75 children died when the tsunami hit.

The parents of those children, who survived, became embroiled in belligerent actions against the bureaucratic government that couldn’t protect them.

Knowing it was the site of a tragedy, the remaining children would dare each other to explore the school grounds for the ghosts of other children – a phenomenon that many of these kids came back saying were still there, crawling around and half-covered in mud.

6 /10 Spiritual Message

Local parents consulted with psychic mediums to try and contact their lost children or to make amends somehow.

One psychic instructed a client to tie decorations into the bamboo trees, which she claimed delighted the childrens’ ghosts.

Another different medium contended that the children did not need placation and were already home, but searching for them would send them back and disturb their rest.

5 /10 Ghostly Passage

Another group that was hit by multiple sightings was taxi drivers.

Plenty of bizarre urban myths and modern ghost stories in Japan revolve around taxis, either with phantasmal, demonic drivers or disappearing patrons that get in but then never get out.

These were reported by drivers, with one man picking a woman up shortly after the tsunami had hit.

She asked to go to Miyagi, which he told her was destroyed, to which she asked, “Have I died?” Others reported passengers in the surrounding area that vanished before their stop from the moving cars.

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4 /10 Possession

There were infrequent talks of possessions, with one account being of Takeshi Ono (a pseudonym). He went to the beach after the tsunami receded to get a look at the damage.

That night, he returned home changed. He growled, rolled around, and cursed out his family, claiming they were dead; they all were killed, so they should die too.

He consulted with a local monk who blessed him with holy water and calmed the spirit inside of him to return to his everyday life.

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3 /10 Spiritual Fallout

Speculation has stirred constantly about how these sightings came to be. Japan has a long history of ghost stories that are so deeply rooted they are cultural cornerstones.

They inspire modern media for entertainment and have even influenced international media, such as The Ring’s real ghost story.

However, another factor considered was radiation and how its presence in the surrounding area may have led people to radiation-based hallucinations or a shared paranoia of ghosts to deflect from the much more real but invisible danger at hand.

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2 /10 The Real Ghosts

The effects of the tsunami were highly physical on the landscape, but the deepest wounds were psychological.

A lot of the hauntings and possessions were easily explained away as post-traumatic stress episodes or psychotic breakdowns.

Japan’s culture practices emotional conservation most of the time, bottling up and staying quiet even about personal suffering.

When adjacent to so much extreme distress, it can’t stay bottled up and explodes out. Despite that, monks and mediums, and priests serve an essential function.

They don’t dismiss people’s beliefs; they help guide them through their grief with calmness and understanding to help them.


1 /10 Unsolved Mystery

The topic of tsunami ghosts was given a revival with the airing of a new series of Unsolved Mysteries, which delved into the various interviews and records of this troubled part of the country.

It wasn’t the usual fare for the show, mostly about true crime and other unexplained things like disappearances.

However, the subject matter still dealt with loss and the bizarre occurrence of a widespread, almost pandemic level of ghost stories from an otherwise secular population.

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