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
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.