Unsolved Mysteries (2020-…): Season 2, Episode 4 - Tsunami Spirits - full transcript

A massive earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan in March 2011. Residents share stories of the spirits they encountered in the wake of the disaster.

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I asked the man,

"Who are you?"

He said, "I'm
at the bottom of the ocean."

And then he asked me,
"Reverend, am I alive or dead?"

I told him, "There
was an earthquake.

You were hit by a tsunami.

And you died."

Ishinomaki has oceans,
mountains and rivers.

We have it all.

The Kitakami River is considered
the mother of the town.

It created the
port of Ishinomaki.

We receive wealth from

the rivers and the sea.

My relatives work
with the ocean.

They make nori,
the seaweed product.

The ocean has always meant prosperity
to the people of Ishinomaki.

We all loved the ocean,

until the earthquake hit.


People in this area have experienced
a number of large earthquakes.

After an earthquake that large,

I knew a tsunami would come.

Using our emergency radios,

we told residents to flee
as quickly as they could.

We gave evacuation instructions.

We did everything
we were trained to do.


what we couldn't expect
was the size of the tsunami that followed.

This is a tsunami warning.

If you are near the ocean,
please move to higher ground.


The tsunami is coming!

Please go up the stairs!

MARCH 11 ABOUT 3:30 P.M.

The tsunami was gaining force,

and growing larger.

Don't panic.

My ceiling caved in.
All the lights started to break.

The moment I felt I
was in serious danger,

the impact hit me.

The impact pushed me outside.

I couldn't tell what
was up or down.

I thought I was going to die.

I saw the faces of
my wife and children.

I tried my best
to swim up for air.



Eventually, I
reached the surface.

I floated away, weightless.

I wondered where I was going

as I was carried away.

First the earthquake hit us.

Then the tsunami followed.
So many lives were stolen.

On top of all that,
it started to snow.

It snowed a lot.

And the snow wouldn't stop falling
on these drenched survivors.

I was completely defeated.

Why is nature being so cruel,

so merciless, to
people who are already suffering?

Great East Japan earthquake is one
of the world's biggest, M8.8

The morning after the tsunami,

I found out that 54
of my co-workers

had died.

I felt like I was in hell.

I never want to
experience that again.


I found my eldest daughter
in this bamboo forest.

Some of the bamboos were bent,

and I saw my eldest daughter...

draped over one of them.

She looked like
she was sleeping.

She looked so beautiful.
There wasn't a single cut on her face.

The body of my wife was...

a three-minute drive away from here
when it was found.

A week or two
after the earthquake,

we were clearing up the debris

and I was looking
for my youngest daughter.

And then I heard someone shout,

"I've found a baby!"

The baby's face was swollen
and covered with mud.

So I cleaned her face

and recognized
that it was my youngest daughter.

Due to lack of fuel and electricity
from the nuclear power plant failure,

the crematorium
wasn't functioning.


people couldn't have funerals.

In Japan, we
traditionally cremate the bodies.

But we were forced
to bury the dead in the ground.

And later on we'd dig them up

and cremate the bodies.

The bodies were carried in
one after another nonstop.

It was devastating
to see them all pass by me.

The first dead bodies I saw

were two fifth-grade girls.

I was not able to read a mantra,
because I couldn't stop shaking.

I am the reverend
at the Tsudai temple.

I am the 26th generation.

I've grown up in this temple.

I went to college
and later trained as a monk,

but everything I've learned
couldn't prepare me

for what happened
after the earthquake.

I didn't know what to say
to the survivors.

I arrived in Ishinomaki

in June 2011,

and I started hearing
rumors of ghosts.

By October, there
were dozens of them.

So I started documenting people
who had supernatural experiences.

One day, a man named Endo

reached out to me.

He had experienced
something supernatural.

On the day of the earthquake,

he visited a shelter
to see if his mother was there.

He was told to
wait there for her.

So, he waited.

While he was waiting,

he saw an older woman
looking out the window

and wearing his
mother's clothes.

As he looked closer,
he realized it was his mother.

He took out his camera
to take a photo of his mother

so his family would
know she was safe.

But the woman's face changed into someone
he'd never seen before.

He found out that the microbus
his mother was riding in

was washed away by the tsunami

around the same time
he took the photograph at the shelter.

Until August 2013,

I continued searching for stories
of people's experiences with ghosts.

The people I visited would say

how desperate they were
to see the spirits of their loved ones.

They said they were still looking
for some kind of message from them.

For example,
a woman who lives in Ishinomaki

lost her three-year-old son
to the tsunami.

Since then,

she has suffered from depression
and panic attacks.

Inside her home
was her deceased son's toy.

Then one night...

Shall we eat?

Hold on.


let's eat together.

The toy had a manual switch

inside of an electric one,

so there'd be no way
it could turn itself on

without any force.

Before that night,
the mother was looking forward to dying.

She had a daughter who survived,
and she'd tell her,

"Even though you
might suffer when I die,

at least I'll be
happy in heaven."

But that toy reminded her that her son
was watching her at all times.

It helped give
her purpose again.

Unlike Americans,
the families of victims in Japan

don't seek out grief counseling.

They know that they'd feel
much more at peace with a counselor

but they're afraid
it would make them forget the deceased.

I think it's
because of Japanese spirituality

and the way we
perceive life and death.

Japanese people don't separate
the dead from the living.

Shoji is a sliding door
made of very thin paper.

To Japanese people,
death is like shoji.

Once you open the sliding door

you go through to the other side

and the living can still see you
through it.

Survivors tend to move on
at their own pace.

I want them to move on
with their lives, but for them,

three steps forward
can lead to three steps back.

Many of us have lost loved ones
without saying goodbye.

We don't think it's fair.

The deceased feel the same way.

There was a story told by

someone in a group of people

who had supernatural

One clear night,

a woman was preparing a meal.

The visitor asked
for dry clothes.

Please take these.

My house used to stand

somewhere around there.

There used to be houses
all over this area.

It was like a small community.

I don't see a trace
of that anymore.

It makes me very sad.

After the earthquake
they wanted to go home,

but the city had
changed so much.

Spirits didn't seem to know
how to find their home.

Many of them didn't know
how to contact their families.

Lost souls don't
have a place to go,

so they ask people
on the streets for help.

Some people can see ghosts,

and others can't.


have always been spiritual
and a bit odd since I was a child.

I used to think everyone
could see the dead

when I was talking with them,

but they couldn't.

People frequently ask me
what ghosts look like.

They appear as a slightly transparent
reflection through a glass window.

One night,

I was stopped by a group of young men
who were killed by the tsunami.

They didn't seem to know
that they were deceased

but I knew they were no longer
living in this world

from how they appeared.

I could have
simply ignored them,

but I felt sorry for
them so I stopped.

I asked them what happened?

One of them said he
wanted to go home,

but that he was lost.

I had to tell them the truth

because I didn't want them
to suffer anymore.

I said, "All of you
have passed away."


My specialty is the
sociology of disaster.

Then considering
these realities,

let's have two of you today...

I regularly teach seminars,

and every year I ask my students

to come up with a different topic
for their own research.

A student named
Ms. Kudo suggested

the story of the
ghosts in Ishinomaki.

The ones I found the most believable
came from taxi drivers

because there were physical records
connected to their sightings.

This is one of their
taxi ghost stories.

Japan is pretty hot
during the month of August.

A man around 20 years old
wearing a thick coat

got into a taxi.


The driver felt there was something
strange about the passenger.

By the time they arrived,
the sun had already set.

When he looked back,
the passenger was gone.

There were several taxi drivers
who had similar experiences.


In all of these cases, the meters
would continue to log their travels,

giving us evidence
of these ghostly phenomena.

Someone needed
to pay for these rides

because the meters kept running.

So who did?

It turns out that the drivers
were the ones paying

for their ghost passengers.

Many taxi drivers
had experienced the loss

of their families to
the tsunami as well.

So they said they would welcome
the ghosts with open arms

if they needed a ride again.

This disaster was very traumatic
for the people of the Tohoku region.

I think the presence of ghosts

is a way for people to cope

with their PTSD as a community.

I believe that's what is
being manifested here.

But if that were the case,

after the Great
Hanshin Earthquake,

or the devastation
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,

where many lives
were lost at once,

data shows that ghost sightings

were never publicly reported.

So why do people experience
these ghostly phenomena

after this particular earthquake
in the Tohoku region?

In the northern region of Japan,
Tohoku had the slowest development

compared to the rest of Japan.

There are still areas
that are very rural.

I presume that's why this area still
holds onto certain spiritual traditions.

The souls of the dead

are invited by a spiritual shaman using a
kuchiyose ritual,

where these shamans act
as vessels to tell their stories.

This tradition has been customary
to the Tohoku area.

Death is not the
end of the journey.

That's why the
idea that death travels

between two worlds
is not uncommon.

I believe it lies
somewhere even deeper.

The relationship
between the living and the dead,

is something
that has existed from long ago.

It remains in
some fundamental part of us...

and became shaken loose
by this earthquake.

Perhaps you can say it's
part of the DNA of religious sentiment,

but it all spewed out.

Those feelings are especially
strong in the Tohoku region.

I don't really
believe in ghosts.

I'm not the type of person
who would see them.

However, in everyday life,
there are certain things

that we can't
file away in a box.

Although we can't
process them now,

we all carry data
that are somehow important.

In which case,

regardless of how
undefined they may be,

we can leave them undefined.

I believe things
like ghost encounters

can remain
ambiguous in our lives.

Scientists complain
about our ghost stories.

They tend to focus
on evidence and logic.

"Why would religious people
believe in this?

That's just

Some psychologists would say
it's because of people's trauma.

But, that's their interpretation

based on what they've observed
from outside of this chaos.

That kind of interpretation
doesn't mean anything to us

or to the survivors.

Why can't we embrace
them as they are

and help them find
their own answers?

Why can't we help
them in this process?

Oh, my. Please, come in.

Are you all right?

One night, my wife
answered the door.

She said "Taio, a
young woman is here.

She seems ill."

The woman said,

"I feel many people inside me
and I can't stop them.

Please help me,
Reverend Kaneta."

That was her plea.

During my long years
at the temple as a priest,

people like her
have visited me before.

But I never met someone
who suffered as much as she did.

She was the first.

She said, "Many spirits
are entering my body

and I can't stop them."

At the time, I didn't really understand
what was going on with me.

All I could feel was pain.

It was so painful...

that I wanted
someone to kill me.

I felt the spirit of a girl
crying inside me.

And the spirit of a man

was holding her leg
and wouldn't let go.

As soon as Reverend Kaneta
grabbed my feet, the spirit said,

"Who are you?"

Reverend Kaneta said,
"Me? I'm the reverend of this temple."

The man replied,
"What is the reverend doing here?"

I was seeing this man
yelling and screaming.

It was terrifying.

The prayer takes a long time.

By burning incense
in front of Buddha,

Ami was released
from the possession.

Possessed people I
had seen in the past

were incomparable to this woman.

Her personality would change
whenever she was possessed.

I asked if she lived
near the disaster zone.

"Did you experience
the tsunami?

Has anyone close to you
died in the accident?"

She said no to everything.

Ami, herself, had nothing
to do with the tsunami.

Even before the earthquake

ghosts would bother me.

It was a year after the earthquake
when the ghosts of the tsunami

started invading my life.

I told her to come
visit me anytime,

and she really came at any time.

It often started
around 7 p.m.

and lasted
until 2 or 3 a.m.

Through Ami,

I was able to listen
to the solemn voices of the spirits

who lost their lives

in the tsunami.

After what happened at Kaneta's

more and more victims of the tsunami
started to enter my body.

One of them was...

a girl who had to let go

of her brother's hand.

The girl heard her brother saying,
"Sis, I can't run anymore."

But she wouldn't respond to him

because they had to keep
running from the water.

I could see, hear, smell,
and feel everything,

even the touch of
her brother's hand.

She was so scared

and I was too.

She saw

her brother being washed away.

Reverend Kaneta spoke
to the little girl.

She reached out to him,

so he held her hand.

But then she said,

"No!" and she
let go of him.

"Mom! Mom! I want mom!"

I felt helpless.

Why isn't anyone helping her?

The little girl wanted

to apologize to her mom
for letting go of her brother.

She kept saying
"Mom, I'm sorry."

She was looking
everywhere for her mom.

I was near her at the time,

so I chose to act as her mother

and held her hand.

She had a really strong grip.

I said, "Mom is right here.
I will never let go.

You are always
here with me."

I said to her,

"Let's walk
towards the light."

And she started to follow me.

I told her, "Go to the light.

Everyone is there
waiting for you."

Then, Ami was finally able
to let go of my hand.


Ami asked me if
she was mentally ill.

I said, "I don't think you are.

You are just more
sensitive than most.

More so than the rest of us.

I'm not going to treat you
as mentally ill."

There's a range of what humans
can actually hear and see.

But everyone is
slightly different on that spectrum.

Some can hear and
see more than others.

When big disasters happen,

people's ranges tend to expand,

enabling them to see
what's not supposed to be seen,

and hear what's not
supposed to be heard.

They feel rather than think.

In everyday life,

we sacrifice our need to feel
without even knowing it.

Ami's story is neither a movie

nor a made-up story.

We don't necessarily
share this story with the world.

I'll tell you if you ask me,

but only if someone asks.

These things just happen.

At the time,

I felt a sense of duty
to confront the events

that happened
during the earthquake.

That sense of duty is what gave me
motivation to help Ami.

What I did with Ami does not follow
traditional Buddhist teachings.

Some monks asked
why I did such a thing,

but I really don't care.

When I see a
woman who's suffering,

I feel obligated to help her rather
than worry about my religious beliefs.

I don't believe any gods
would get mad at me.

I think they'd
say, "Good job!"

Since the earthquake,

I have been asking myself,

"What can I
do as a monk?"

From my interaction with Ami,

I realized that

what we can do

is listen to people
to help cure their pain.

That is something we can do.

If I have a table, a cup of coffee,
and a delicious cake, people will gather.

I want people to talk
about the pain they're carrying

in order to let go.

Was your husband washed away
by the tsunami when he was at home?

It takes a while to accept
the reality, doesn't it?

Sun shines onto us

because we have such a warm place
for people to gather.

I advocate for more joy,

even if it's just for a moment.

Many survivors ask me,

"Why did I survive?"

"Why couldn't
I save them?"

"Who's dividing this line
between life and death?"

And many of them

were scared of ghost sightings.

I'm so scared."

"What should I do?"

I struggled a bit to answer,

but this is what I tell them:

"These ghosts
aren't scary at all.

They appear in front of you

because they worry about you
and long for you.

So there's no need to be scared.

If you see ghosts
again, tell them...

'You are dead.

There's a world
for you to go to.

We are still living.

We will remain in
this destroyed city,

and will make sure
to revive and restore

our relationship with the city.

Do not worry about us.'"