The Tokyo-based correspondent for The Times newspaper speaks about his gripping book, Ghosts of the Tsunami, an intimate account of life in post-3/11 Tohoku.
Richard Lloyd Parry spent six years reporting from the disaster zone in Fukushima following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.
Through his narrative nonfiction work, he shares the survivors’ struggle to find peace while exploring Japan's relationship with spirituality.
Ahead of his talk and book-signing, Parry discusses his third book:
How did the 2011 tsunami differ from other disasters you have covered?
I covered the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Aceh, which killed a quarter of a million people. I can remember thinking at the time that it was…the kind of event that only occurs every 1,000 years or so. Then, seven years later, it happened again, just up the road. Of course, the nuclear disaster [in] Fukushima complicated everything immeasurably.
What triggered the idea for the book?
I recognized early on that this was the kind of massive event that is hard to do justice in daily journalism, and that it would lend itself to a book. I was looking for smaller, human stories that could serve as a way of telling the bigger one. Eventually, I found them, in the tragedy at Okawa Elementary School, where 74 children died because their teachers failed to evacuate them, and in the stories of the ghosts, hauntings and cases of possession that people started reporting a few months after the disaster.
What did you learn about your adopted home through the book?
The most unexpected thing was about the character of Japanese spirituality. When surveys on the subject are carried out, most Japanese identify themselves as nonreligious. By this, they mean that they don’t regularly take part in formal rituals associated with major religions like Buddhism, Shinto or Christianity. But many, many people have an instinctive belief in the survival after death of their dead ancestors, and the possibility of communication with them via the butsudan, or household shrine. People don’t think of that as religious practice, but it is.
At the meet the author event, Parry will give a short presentation followed by a Q&A and book signing.
Apr 22Children's Library | Free
May 11Beate Sirota Gordon and Haru Reischauer classrooms | ¥3,240 / ¥3,900 (Guests)