What is the Unsolved Mysteries ghost episode about?

Unsolved Mysteries key art. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Netflix.)
Unsolved Mysteries key art. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Netflix.) /

What is the ghost episode of Unsolved Mysteries about?

The Unsolved Mysteries ghost episode investigates multiple ghost sightings following Japan’s massive 9.1 magnitude earthquake in 2011.

There are two Unsolved Mysteries paranormal episodes, one each in volumes 1 and 2 of the Netflix original series. The one about aliens, “Berkshires UFO,” appears in volume 1. The Unsolved Mysteries ghost episode, “Tsunami Spirits,” appears in volume 2.

Just as each of the cold cases are a bit unusual and not your run-of-the-mill true crime stories, the fourth episode in volume 2, “Tsunami Spirits,” is not your usual ghost story, either.

In March 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that devastated the northeastern part of Japan. Live Science reported that 120,000 buildings were destroyed, 278,000 were half-destroyed and 726,000 were partially destroyed.”

Though not as large number-wise as the property, worse was the number of deaths. (Because buildings can be rebuilt.) Almost 16,000 people died (15,894 is the count most often quoted), and over 2,500 are still considered missing.

The Unsolved Mysteries ghost episode features interviews with residents and earthquake survivors from Ishinomaki, Japan, which is in the Miyagi district in the Tohoku region. In addition to featuring their stories about what happened to them that day, and in some cases who they lost, they also relate encounters with people afterward who they later discovered had actually died in the tsunami.

Interestingly, very few of their ghost stories involve their relatives. One very touching personal story, however, was about a man who went to a shelter to search for his mom.

He saw a woman sitting in a wheelchair wearing his mother’s clothes. She turned her head and looked up at him. He decided to take a picture to show everybody he’d found her and she was okay, but after he did, the woman’s face morphed into someone else’s and he realized it wasn’t his mother at all.

Later, he found out his mom had been in a minibus that had been swept away in the waters at about the time he was taking the picture.

With so much trauma, it’s understandable so many were suffering emotionally. But unlike in the United States, in Japan, they don’t seek grief counseling. They don’t want to forget their loved ones, because they view death a bit differently. They don’t see a difference between the living and the dead.

And instead of fearing the ghosts or worrying that they mean any harm, their biggest concern is helping the ghosts understand what has happened to them. Because so many were showing up, confused. Had they died? Where was their house? What had happened to it? They could no longer find it.

One woman shared a story of a dripping wet stranger knocking on her door asking for help. The woman lent the stranger dry clothes. She left, then later more dripping went strangers showed up. The woman believed all of them were tsunami spirits.

The Unsolved Mysteries ghost episode also shared stories of taxi drivers who picked up fares that requested to be taken to the Miyagi district. One such taxi ghost story involved a man who got into the cab dressed in a heavy coat. It was still cold in March 2011 when the earthquake and tsunami hit, but at the time he picked up this man, it was too warm for such a big coat, the taxi driver said.

The taxi driver drove to the specified address, but when he looked in the back seat, the man in the heavy coat was gone.

The missing passenger story was one many taxi drivers claim to have had, but that also many won’t talk about. They just hope they’re helping to get the spirits to where they need to go to find peace.

One thing that’s very striking about the episode is all of the different types of people they interview. Just like in the “Berkshires UFO” episode, all of the witnesses in the “Tsunami Spirits” episode are credible. From survivors to officials and government leaders and those with the ghost stories, none of them seem “out there” or “wacko” in any way.

The show also strives to strike a balance by bringing perspectives on the ghost sighting phenomenon that followed the earthquake and tsunami by presenting three distinct points of view.

One is from a spiritual leader, Taio Kaneta, a Buddhist Reverand. He comes across a very sincere, kind and wise man.

Kiyoshi Kanebishi, PH.D., a Professor of Sociology at Tohoku Gakuin University and author/editor of Post-Disaster Spirituality, provides a scientific perspective.

And there was also Kansho Aizawa, a resident of Ishinomaki who doesn’t call herself a psychic medium per se but does say she can see and speak with dead people.

Kanebishi, whose specialty is the sociology of disaster, admitted he doesn’t really believe in ghosts. But he also said:

"“However, in everyday life, there are certain things that we can’t file away in a box. Although we can’t process them now, we all carry data that are somehow important. In which case, regardless of how undefined they may be, we can leave them undefined. I believe things like ghost encounters can remain ambiguous in our lives.”"

That’s the best way to sum up the Unsolved Mysteries ghost episode. The ghost stories are more interesting and ambiguous than scary. The episode challenges our popular notions of what ghosts are. Not scary. Not to be feared. But rather to be treated with respect and compassion.

No, the ghosts were far from the most chilling part of this episode. That went to the actual footage of the earthquake, tsunami and resulting destruction paired with the heartbreaking stories of the people who lost their businesses, schools, homes and loved ones due to that terrible natural disaster.

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