Who Is Taio Kaneta, Featured In a Moving Episode of 'Unsolved Mysteries'?

The Buddhist monk is deeply involved in caring for both the living and dead.

tōhoku, japan earthquake
(Image credit: Chris McGrath)

In 2011, Tōhoku, Japan suffered a magnitude 9 earthquake, followed by a tsunami that killed nearly 16,000 people—more than 2,500 remain missing—and drove as far as six miles into the mainland. It was the strongest recorded earthquake in Japan to date, and it also caused a meltdown of nearby nuclear reactors. Since then, residents near and far are said to have experienced strange sightings—ghosts that don't know they're dead, victims who were never found and now wander in search of their home or family. Buddhist reverend and monk Taio Kaneta runs a "mobile counseling cafe" for survivors of the tragedy, both to help them in their grief and, in some cases, to allow them process these strange paranormal experiences. He's interviewed for episode four of volume two of Netflix's Unsolved Mysteries.

Who is Reverend Taio Kaneta?

Kaneta started his work with tsunami victims in 2011, shortly after the tragedy. In the episode, Kaneta admits that his practice might be a bit unorthodox relative to typical Buddhist teachings, but that he felt deeply for the survivors and that his normal liturgies were not useful in breaking through to the grief and suffering of the community.

As a priest at the temple, people would come to Kaneta feeling "possessed" by the spirits of the tsunami, and he would pray with them and burn incense, which he says helped release the spirits from the person. He and his wife now host Cafe de Monk, where he brings together tsunami survivors so they can talk about their pain and process their feelings with others. Apparently, "the name was a play on words—the English word monk could be pronounced 'monku,' which means 'to complain' in Japanese." He also plays Thelonius Monk in the background.

What wasn't covered in the episode?

Kaneta also appeared in a 2012 documentary called Souls of Zen, which was a documentary about Buddhism in the wake of the tsunami disaster. He was also featured in the book Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry, particularly his work at the cafe. A 2015 The World article explained that the cafes were not really about religion or preaching, but about listening to people as they take the time to grieve. "Visitors to the café eat cake, drink coffee. There’s art therapy, massages...In a lot of ways, it seems almost too ordinary—hanging out, drinking coffee. And that is kind of the point. This sense of normality has been lacking in their lives."

Katherine J. Igoe

Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.