The Ghosts of Tsunami Dead and Kokoro no kea in Japan’s Religious Landscape

In: Journal of Religion in Japan
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  • 1 Tōhoku University

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Since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in 2011, ghost tales have spread throughout disaster affected areas. There have been reports of ghost sightings and even of people being possessed by ghosts of the tsunami dead. In 2013, I conducted a survey to investigate how religious specialists deal with such phenomena. The results show that a substantial number of them were actually consulted by people troubled by ghosts. In this article, I identify four common characteristics of how priests treat such clients: (1) Acceptance and listening, (2) Performing rituals, (3) Providing moral instruction, and (4) Promoting self-care for the afflicted. Priests offer traditional religious care, but the care they provide is based on a psychological understanding of ghosts, while they also account for secular factors when considering how to best treat the people who come to them for help. This attitude toward ghosts and treatment reflects the priests’ struggle to work in the interstices between the secular and the religious in contemporary Japan, a balancing act which accounts for the recent increase of religious specialists offering kokoro no kea (care of the heart/mind) based on secular teachings in clinical fieldsites. Whether this trend will be successful or not is a yardstick by which to judge the secularity or post-secularity of contemporary and future Japanese society.

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    In 2012, a new project for training interfaith chaplains, called rinshō shūkyō shi 臨床宗教師 (literally, clinical religious specialists) was launched at Tōhoku University. 126 priests and pastors have taken the training course to this day and several hospitals have hired them. http://www.sal.tohoku.ac.jp/p-religion (accessed 25 October 2015). Other universities such as Sophia, Ryūkoku, Kōyasan, Musashino and Shuchin have opened similar courses. See also, Kasai and Itai (2013), Taniyama (2014a). Nihon Rinshō Shūkyōhikai 日本臨床宗教師会 (Society for Interfaith Chaplaincy in Japan) was founded in February 2016.

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