Cover Image: Ghosts of the Tsunami

Ghosts of the Tsunami

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This book shines light on an event within the natural disaster of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the Okawa Primary School deaths. As news gradually came to America about this disaster, it mostly concentrated on the Fukushima nuclear plant, so I had no previous knowledge of the disaster that hit this school. Parry does an excellent job chronicling the struggles and hardships of the families involved, bringing a phenomenal weather event to life for those who will likely never experience a tsunami. While this highlights many tragic details, it is also filled with the resilience of human life and how we may find hope within "rubble." A sad read, but an important read as well.

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An obviously powerful story, conveyed with pathos by an author with an on-the-grounds feel for the catastrophe. As a reader, I sometimes got lost in unfamiliar Japanese names, but that should be no impediment for other readers who want to learn more a bout the unprecedented level of this terrible event in genuine human terms.

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Eighteen and a half thousand people died in the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011. It’s not really possible to get one’s head around a tragedy on that scale so, wisely, Parry focuses on a smaller story within the story. Seventy-four children died at Okawa primary school because the administration didn’t have a sufficient disaster plan in place. Instead of leading the children up the hill above the school, the teachers took them down the road to a roundabout and they were all soon washed away. Years later the parents of the dead children would bring a lawsuit against the school board, accusing it of negligence. A community that had at first been united in suffering while searching for corpses started to splinter apart: the parents of the dead resented the parents of the handful of survivors, and there were disagreements about the lawsuit. Standing up and shouting insults at officials during public hearings didn’t fit the stereotype of Japanese dignity and reserve, but desperation overruled all other concerns.

Like Wave, this is almost unbearably sad, but amid the overwhelming sense of loss the fragments of individual stories shine through: The mother who got a digger license so she could spend part of every day sifting through rubble for her daughter’s remains, the centenarian athlete who survived decades of life’s assaults only to be swept away in the tsunami, the bureaucrat who very nearly drowned but lived to tell the tale, the Zen Buddhist priest who was called on to perform many an exorcism. Japan is not a very religious country but, as Parry explains, its true religion may well be ancestor reverence, and with so many unsettled ghosts around after the disaster, a whole nation had to decide how to do right by the dead. You can be as skeptical as you like, but it’s hard to ignore these accounts of ghosts.

Parry, a long-time resident of Japan, was at work in Tokyo on the day the earthquake hit. The quake and its aftershocks, though serious, didn’t hit the city very hard, so it took a while for it to become clear just what the extent of the damage was elsewhere in the country. He spent six years researching and writing this book. It’s a stunning portrait of a resilient people, but it’s also a more universal story of the human spirit facing the absolute worst.

Favorite passages:

“this was the best of Japan, the best of humanity, one of the things I loved and admired most about this country: the practical, unsensational, irrepressible strength of communities.”

“There is no tidying away of loose ends to be done in a story about the deaths of young children, about the annihilation of a coast—only more stories to be told, and retold in different ways, and tested like radioactive material for the different kinds of meaning they give out. Stories alone show the way.”

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This was an extrememly intense nonfiction read on one of the areas hit the hardest in the tsunmi that hit Japan. In it, it talks about a primary school where nearly all the children and teachers died except for a few handful of kids who had been picked up before the wave hit and one teacher. Not only does it talk about their death, but finding the bodies and what came next for the parents that had their kids and those who were still looking. It also talked about the fact that many believed that in the aftermath that some sort of ghost was left by the event, either from the memory of those who died or actual supernatural spirits.

I loved this book, but it was also so crushing, as expected when dealing with such a topic. I read it due to an interest about the aftermath, but stayed for good storytelling and how they treated the information about death. As someone who is part of growing interest and care to know the information of what happens to the dead and how they're treated. I loved the careful treatment and telling about the dead, considering how young a lot of the victims are. However, some parts did drag a bit and could been cut down, but I do appricate it.

Now I have mixed feelings about the fact WHO was telling the story. The author is originally from the UK and now lives in Japan. Maybe an outsider was the only one able to tell this story, due to possible trauma. But I don't think that was the case. I would have liked to hear from someone closer to the culture and situation and their feelings when it came to such talks about how the Japanese act in tough situations and who they are as a people. A few times I would have preferred to hear from someone who is part of that fabric of a people that someone from the outside might not understand. But it was only a few times I felt like the author wasn't suited for it. I'd also like to read a book from someone who is Japenese talk about these issues, if there was any. I think both would be interesting and important to consider.

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We all read the news, saw the statistics, watched footage of a wave of debris-laden black water surge over the coastline of northeastern Japan. However, to go beyond that and to get a more intimate look into the physical and emotional destruction of villages and families, the following confusion, rage and anxiety that continues to this day, and the struggle to persevere after such loss, you honestly cannot do any better then this exhaustive effort by Richard Lloyd Parry to give voice to the disaster-stricken.

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This is another NetGalley book, one that I wished for and was granted to me. I'm thankful that I got to read this because it's a heartbreaking account of the effect of the March 11th tsunami. Instead of trying to show all the destruction, Ghosts of the Tsunami focuses on Okawa Elementary School, where a series of heartbreakingly wrong decisions led to the deaths of 74 out 78 students and 10 out of 11 teachers.

Desperate for some answers and frustrated by the actions of the school and the principal, a group of parents took the brave step of bringing things to court. But this is not a legal drama. The book takes an intimate look at the lives of all those involved by talking to survivors and relatives of victims to build an account of what happened and what happened after, including the court case.

There are many heartbreaking moments in this book, such as a grandfather unable to recognise the body of his granddaughter, whom he lifted out of the mid, because of the state she was in.

Or the words of this mother:
"We used to think that we were bringing up our children," said Sayomi Shinto. "But then we discovered that it was we, the parents, who were brought up by them. We thought that the children were the weakest among us, and that we protected them. But they were the keystone. All the other pieces depended on them. When they were taken away, we realised this for the first time. We thought that we were looking after them. But it was the children who supported us."
And by making sure the book isn't too narrowly focused on the court case, instead following the lives of the parents and one of the surviving children, Richard Lloyd Parry managed to convey how the community of Tohoku reacted. For example, the way the community divided into two regarding what to do with the school - preserve it or not - reflected how they chose to deal with grief; whether they wanted to face it and talk about it or to hide it away.

There was only one moment in the book that made me double take. Someone was talking about the size of the tsunami and the words "twenty feet" was quoted. I suppose that this is to make things easier for Americans to understand, despite the fact that all but three countries in the world use the metric system, but I didn't like it. If you're quoting someone, I would prefer that the translation be as accurate as possible, and yes, meters to feet is a small change but if I doubt the small things, then I might end up doubting the important things too.

Overall, though, this was a fantastic book and one of the most powerful things that I've read this year. If you're going to read one book on the 3/11 Tsunami, this is it. By the way, if you want a sneak pic, the Guardian has a good excerpt that you should read.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

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After reading Richard Lloyd Parry's essay entitled Ghosts of the Tsunami in the London Review of Books, I instantly became obsessed with getting and reading his book, Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone. Parry was living in Tokyo at the time of the earthquake and spent six years as a foreign correspondent visiting and reporting from the tsunami disaster zone.

Shocking facts about the Japanese earthquake on 11 March 2011*
- It was the biggest earthquake ever to have struck Japan, and the fourth most powerful in the history of seismology.
- It knocked the earth 10 inches off it's axis.
- It moved Japan four feet closer to America.

Shocking facts about the tsunami that followed*
- The tsunami killed 18,500 people.
- At its peak, the water of the tsunami was 120 feet high.
- The earthquake and tsunami caused more than $210 billion of damage, making it the most costly natural disaster ever.

I didn't know that the Japanese honour their dead ancestors in the form of household altars and memorial tablets. When these were destroyed in the tsunami, the subsequent grief and bereavement was about so much more than the immediate loss of life. The tsunami destroyed memorial books and tablets containing the names of generations of ancestors and even ripped open cemetery vaults and scattered the bones of the dead.

Without their memorial tablets, and important family items, survivors weren't able to honour their ancestors. Entire families lost in the tsunami left nobody behind to honour them and their ancestors. The disaster left a population in deep grief and a feeling that the souls of thousands of ancestors had been suddenly 'cut adrift'.

Parry interviewed hundreds of survivors and many of their experiences are in this book. He tells how survivors "spoke of the terror of the wave, the pain of bereavement and their fears for the future. They also talked about encounters with the supernatural. They described sightings of ghostly strangers, friends and neighbours, and dead loved ones. They reported hauntings at home, at work, in offices and public places, on the beaches and in the ruined towns."

I was hoping to read more about these encounters and the way in which the nation and individual communities dealt with the sudden loss of 18,500 souls. Stories like this one: "A fire station that received calls to places where all the houses had been destroyed by the tsunami. The crews went out to the ruins anyway, prayed for the spirits of those who had died - and the ghostly calls ceased."

However it soon became clear that Parry's overwhelming focus was going to be the story of the children at Okawa primary school. Tragically, the teachers did not evacuate the children to higher ground, despite having more than enough time to do so before the tsunami struck. Parry documents the parent's grief, the search for their children's remains (often lasting years), the process of pursuing the school and government for answers, right through to class legal action; quite unusual for Japan.

Reading Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone was incredibly informative, factual and shocking but at the same time heart wrenchingly tragic.

Unfortunately for the Japanese, the threat of earthquake and tsunami is constant. Parry tells us that in 2012: "a new study concluded that an earthquake and tsunami originating in the Nankai Trough could take 323,000 lives along the south-central Pacific Coast." He also says that "it is generally assumed Tokyo will be shaken by an earthquake powerful enough to destroy large areas of the city......that will kill many tens of thousands of people."

I hope this doesn't happen during my lifetime, although the Japanese seem as prepared as they can be for the inevitable. Until then, this generation will continue to wade through their grief and loss the best way they know how.

My rating = ****

Carpe Librum!

* These facts have been extracted from the book.

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This book was an interesting and in-depth look at the result of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami off the east coast of Japan. The stories of the families -- occurring on that day and in the years after -- were sensitively and eloquently delivered. What pain and frustration the families must have felt given the failure of the emergency plan at Okawa Elementary School. Interesting that they bucked traditional Japanese cultural norms to question the authorities. Very well written and moving book. Recommended reading.

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See link to goodreads review

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Superb book! As good as if not better than People Who Eat Darkness. The author demonstrates a remarkable ability to decipher Japanese culture and provide insights.

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Ghosts of the Tsunami details the tragic events of the 2011 tsunami which killed over 20,000 people. The book focuses on the especially horrific loss of life at the Okawa Primary School. 74 of the 78 children who were at the school after the earthquake were killed by the resulting tsunami as well as 10 out of 11 teachers. Mr. Parry examines what caused this extraordinary loss. He speaks of how Japanese schools are typically reinforced with steel and are structurally sound in an effort to protect the students. "No school collapsed or suffered serious physical damage in the earthquake. Nine of them were completely overwhelmed by the tsunami, and at one of them, in the town of Minami-Sanriku, a boy of thirteen was drowned as his class hurried to higher ground. But with one exception, every other school got all its children to safety" So who or what is to blame for the 74 dead children at the school. The book details the families who suffered this loss as they try to get answers as well as their resulting lawsuit against the school and town.

I thought Mr. Parry did a fantastic job of researching all aspects of this tragedy by introducing the reader to several of the families that endured the loss of the children as well as to survivors from Okawa Primary School. The book delicately presents the facts rather than sensationalizing them in order to sell more copies. You can really feel how connected Mr. Parry was with the families and how he wanted to accurately portray their thoughts and feelings.

I did have some difficulty getting through this book, not because it wasn't well written, but because of the age range that lost their life and the suffering of their surviving parents. Having previously worked at a daycare, I imagined myself in the situation of the teachers at this school and could not imagine that I would have left these children to perish in the way that they did. The teachers' ineptitude of doing their job of protecting these innocent lives made me incredibly angry and almost caused me to not want to finish this book. It's hard for me to truly know what I would have actually done in this position though. I think that it's a testament to how well-researched and well-written this book is that I had these thoughts. I thoroughly became invested in these families lives and joined them in their journey to potentially find answers and closure.

Review to be posted on Amazon and my website on release day.

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Ok, such is reading these days that I started two other books but was drawn to reading this one on my Kindle instead. I had waited eagerly for it after requesting the book on Netgalley, but then it was archived and I thought I must have missed out until I got the joyful email I've come to love! Books <3

Like many others, I watched with fascinated horror as first and Earthquake, then Tsunami, swept through Japan in 2011. That is, I watched from the safety of my living room, with no conception of the true disasters that day. Media rattle off figures and statistics; Richard takes us into the homes of the victims.

Okawa school is the focus of this book, as well as the 74 children who died there. Gathered from interviewing both the survivors and relatives as well as other people in the community, we get a real sense of who these children were, who they were going to be. However, despite warnings from parents and officials patrolling the area, and perhaps even from the children themselves, the teachers decided to wait and see, and then evacuated them to a more dangerous area. They had no real plan in place for a Tsunami specifically.

What we get here is a real glimpse at Japanese culture, especially illuminating because it is written by a foreigner who is living in Japan. He can't understand all the attitudes towards different things, but faithfully narrates them anyway. The writing remains an investigation, even as some of the stories become more personal and we as readers get more involved. There are depictions of death and grief, and even discussion of ghosts unable to move on.

Although this was focused on one small area of the disaster zone and really is just a glimpse of the events there, I felt like this was a powerful story that needed to be told. As I said, I put aside two other books just to finish this instead, because once I started I need to know more.

I think this book will appeal to the history buffs, but also to those who read strongly emotional stories that include both fact and account. I enjoyed the writing very much, and am glad I know more about this disaster now. Five stars.

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Ghosts of the Tsunami is a pretty amazing book. Richard Lloyd Parry takes the reader through the tsunami and its aftermath so well that you feel you were there. The sad, tragic story being told is amazing in its self. The Japanese are not usually so open about their feelings.

This book should be read by everyone to understand what a tsunami is like. The human toll is unimaginable. Parry tells the story in such a way that you learn the facts of the earthquake and tsunami but also get an understanding of the people it affected.

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‘Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone’ is Richard Lloyd Parry’s account of the devastation caused by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake which struck off the coast of north-east Japan on 11th March 2011 and the 120-foot high tsunami which followed less than an hour later. Much of the international news coverage at the time focused on the destruction of the Fukushima nuclear reactor. However, ‘Ghosts of the Tsunami’ centres on one particular human tragedy, namely the avoidable deaths of 74 pupils who should have been safely evacuated from Okawa Primary School.

The book begins with Lloyd Parry’s own experience of the fourth most powerful earthquake ever recorded, on the tenth floor of an office building in Tokyo where he was based as Asia editor for The Times. In the months and years which followed, he visited the region of Tohoku devastated by the tsunami and listened to the stories of survivors. The majority of the 18,500 people killed were elderly, including 104-year-old athlete Takashi Shimokawara who Parry had interviewed in 2008 after he had set the world javelin record for a centenarian.

The subject matter is undoubtedly harrowing and sensitive, but Lloyd Parry doesn’t shy away from the difficult questions surrounding blame and responsibility where the management of Okawa Primary School is concerned. Japan has suffered several natural disasters resulting from earthquakes so schools have very strict evacuation procedures which are regularly reviewed. However, Okawa Primary School was judged to be too far in land to be deemed at risk in the event of a tsunami and there were numerous other failings which prevented the evacuation of pupils and staff to higher ground. Most notably, the testimony of the sole surviving teacher, Junji Endo, was full of major inconsistencies. Some of the pupils’ families brought a legal case against the school to uncover the facts and establish accountability which was finally settled in late 2016.

The differences between how a typically reserved Japanese community responded to the disaster compared to how similar catastrophes might be dealt with in Western countries is also striking. While the understated sense of duty among residents led to many quiet acts of heroism, Lloyd Parry also despairs at the lack of public outcry towards the inept and evasive response of the Japanese authorities who tried to shut down any investigation into possible wrongdoing.

During his research, Lloyd Parry met a Buddhist priest who exorcises the ghosts of those who drowned, yet it is clear that the memories of what happened in March 2011 will continue to haunt the community for decades to come. The scale of the devastation caused by the tsunami is beyond words but by narrowing the focus towards a small group of families, Lloyd Parry has produced a riveting piece of narrative non-fiction. Highly recommended.

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Ghosts of the Tsunami is an absolutely heartbreaking account of one small part of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in March 2011. Well-researched and -written, this book gives the slightest insight into the sheer enormity of the disaster and how people coped in the aftermath. Richard Lloyd Parry specifically focuses on the deaths of 74 children at the Okawa Primary School and questions of blame and responsibility. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in reading personal, first-hand accounts of the tsunami.

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You can tell the years of research that went into this heartbreaking book. One of the saddest and most maddening things I've ever read. Highly recommended.

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What happened the day of the earthquake and the consequent Tsunami, we Europeans can only imagine and get a glimpse from pictures and stories told by journalist, but while everybody was worried for the nuclear power plant of Fukujima, there were the parents of almost of a hundred children from the primary school who lost their kids in the big black whale, due to bureaucratic shit and bad human choices. Their stories and their loss is something I will never forget.

Quello che é successo il giorno del terremoto e del conseguente Tsunami, noi europei lo possiamo vagamente immaginare dalle immagini e dai racconti giornalistici, ma mentre tutti erano preoccupati - giustamente - per la centrale nucleare di Fukujima, c'erano i genitori del quasi centinaio di bambini della scuola elementare di Okawa che non avrebbero piú rivisto i propri figli, per colpa di stupide decisioni burocratiche ed errori umani. Le loro storie ed il loro dolore non é qualcosa che si possa dimenticare facilmente.


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I can't deny of how much I love history books. History classes were always one of my favorites in school, I had the pleasure of having one of the best teachers ever teaching History classes, we had music and theater to get in the stories national and international. I have a few great history books in my heart: The Kite Runner, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Bookthief, The Scar of David and much more.

And I have a special place in my heart for Japan actually. In Brazil we have a heavy Japanese culture over us, part of population is made of Asian people where most of them came from Japan actually. Our televisions broadcast lots of Animes and we are always reading Mangas. I've always loved japanese culture and their food too, I've done so many cosplays in my life during anime conventions back in Brazil. I remember the news all over in 2011 when the Tsunami had striked but after the initial fuss of the media my mind had put in the back of my head. 

Then I stumbled over this book to get an ARC and I couldn't pass the opportunity to learn better and the insight of the people who suffered through the afterwards of the Tsunami. We are always so eager to see the thing happening that we forget that every action has a reaction and an after.

How can someone survive this? What is worse: A war created by humans or nature taking its place back? I think I wouldn't be able to say which one is the worst. You are never ready when it happens. That's what happened with that tsunami back in 2011, no one thought it would be that massive, that brutal, that cruelest as it had been. Parents didn't see it coming, children didn't see it coming, elderly didn't see it coming and that speaks volumes being in Japan a country prepared for this kind of thing, the kind of magnitude of the tsunami that it was, the places it actually reached in its wrath path over the earth of the country.

One day where everything had changed for many people and families. Places where they won't be able to live anymore or visit without feeling the pain of the loss. A book where we get to read and realise how lucky we are for not having this constant fear breathing down our necks. I'd be a nervous wreck thinking everyday something can happen and I wouldn't have anyone that I care closer to me anymore. It's not only the force of the nature, but how we human beings deal with the afterwards. It's the show of compassion, solidarity and selfless that shows us the worlds is still not lost.

But it shows too how many years of culture and old traditions obstruct the justice. How the heavy burden of the past and of how we were raised turned us the way we are today and the judgment we get for stepping out of our molds of society. It's how our minds won't rest for justice of something it should be safe for everyone, that they should be ready and no one survived at the end, the mystery in it, the questions with no true answers.

How can you rebuild your life, your family, yourself when everything is lost?

This book covers so many different points of views, different kind os grieves, such different stories coming all from the same unfortunate event. I loved how the author composed the entire book telling the story behind all, the key points, the families, the other people and the ghosts. All the ghosts from the tsunami, showing something it will forever be part of Japan history now.

It shows us, it reminds us about compassion, about love, about our families, about moving on and not moving on at all. About politics, about culture, about tradition and all those feeling in the middle. A great reading for people interest in this kind of literature and curiosity as I am.

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