Monday, May 08, 2023

Ghosts of the Tsunami

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

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

by Richard Lloyd Parry

Picador (2017)

ISBN: 978-1250192813
Paperback, 276 pp

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

On March 11, 2011, Japan's Tohoku region (northeast coast) was struck by what has been called a triple disaster: the largest earthquake in the country's history (and fourth largest in the history of seismology), followed by an enormous tsunami, followed by a disastrous nuclear meltdown.

The earthquake was 9.0 on the Richter Scale, knocked the earth off its axis by six and a half inches, and moved the whole of Japan 13 feet closer to America. The tsunami reached heights of 120 feet and erased numerous villages from the face of the earth. The nuclear meltdown joined the Chernobyl disaster as one of the two worst nuclear accidents in history.

When the final numbers of the triple disaster were added up, the costs were set at $US210, billion (the costliest natural disaster ever) in damage, half a million people homeless and 18,500 dead. Of course, many of the survivors still suffer from trauma.

While author Parry does give attention to the earthquake and the nuclear meltdown, he focuses most of his scrutiny on the tsunami – most specifically the drowning of 74 students and 10 teachers of Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, who lost their lives due to some incredibly poor decisions made by that school's officials.

While some sixth-grade boys begged to be let out of school to run up a nearby hill to safety, the teachers said no, then later directed students and staff towards the incoming tsunami.

Parry, who had worked 16 years in Japan at the time of the triple disaster, follows the lives of the local survivors, including their attempts - through the courts and otherwise - at getting to the truth of what happened at Okawa Elementary.

The ghosts from the title of the book refer to supernatural phenomena that were reported after the tsunami. The ghost stories are somewhat interesting, but can probably be better explained by either mental illness due to the enormous stress people there had to endure, or depending on your belief system, demon possession.

In any case, psychists and mediums often gave completely different answers to questions they received such as where the best place to look for bodies would be and whether the deceased children were now happy or miserable.

Although the book is recommended reading, there are a few minor annoyances. One is the author's dependence on/love of his thesaurus. Numerous words like frisson, tannoy, catarrh, rotas, lineaments and other very low-usage words are sprinkled throughout the book. His oeuvre is bumfuzzling.

Another annoyance is the low quality of the half dozen pictures in the book. This is likely the result of using low quality paper. Also, cutlines (captions) on the pictures, something that would have been helpful, are non-existent.

Parry shows great empathy towards the people of Tohoku (which he inexplicably says is pronounced "Tour hock-oo"), but he gives no breaks to the two men deemed by him and others to be the most responsible for the school children's deaths.

Overall, the book is a good read into some of the darkest days in Japanese history.

Review by Marshall Hughes.

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