'Given all that, we thought we had to do something. Of course, there are some people who are experiencing trauma, and if your mental health is suffering then you need medical treatment. Other people will rely on the power of religion, and that is their choice. What we do is to create a place where people can accept the fact that they are witnessing the supernatural. We provide an alternative for helping people through the power of literature.'
Kaneda reasoned and cajoled, prayed and chanted, and in the end each of the spirits gave way. But days or hours after one group of ghosts had been dismissed, more would stumble forward to take their place. One night in the temple, Rumiko announced: 'There are dogs all around me, it's loud! They are barking so loudly I can't bear it.' Then she said: 'No! I don't want it. I don’t want to be a dog.' Finally she said: 'Give it rice and water to eat. I'm going to let it in.'
'She told us to seize hold of her,' Kaneda said, 'and when the dog entered her it had tremendous power. There were three men holding on to her, but they were not strong enough, and she threw them off. She was scratching the floor and roaring, a deep growl.' Later, after the chanting of the sutra, and the return to her peaceful self, Rumiko recounted the story of the dog. It had been the pet of an old couple who lived close to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. When the radiation began to leak, its owners had fled in panic with all their neighbours. But they forgot to unchain the dog, which slowly died of thirst and hunger. Later, when it was much too late, the spirit of the animal observed men in white protective suits coming in and peering at its shrivelled corpse.
Tohoku, the northern part of the island of Honshu. In ancient times, it was a notorious frontier realm of barbarians, goblins and bitter cold. For modern Japanese, it remains a remote, marginal, faintly melancholy place, of thick dialects and quaint conservatism, the symbol of a rural tradition that, for city dwellers, is no more than a folk memory. Tohoku has bullet trains and smartphones and all the other 21st-century conveniences, but it also has secret Buddhist cults, a lively literature of supernatural tales and a sisterhood of blind shamanesses who gather once a year at a volcano called Osore-san, or ‘Mt Fear’, the traditional entrance to the underworld.
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