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

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12 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176-198
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Religion in Japan
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • ghosts
  • kokoro no kea
  • post-secularity
  • secularization
  • the Great East Japan Earthquake
  • tsunami


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