It has been nearly five years since the March 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. On March 11, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake triggered a tsunami which killed almost 16,000 people in Japan. The devastation caused by the tidal wave that reached 133 feet high and went six miles inland was cataclysmic. In the aftermath, survivors desperately searched for their loved ones among the wreckage. Today, over 2,500 people are still listed as missing.
Understandably, such tragic levels of loss are difficult for the survivors to cope with. However, a study recently conducted by Yuka Kudo, a sociology student at Tohoku Gakuin University, suggests that it is not only the living who are struggling to make sense of the tragedy, but also the dead. Using interviews conducted with over 100 taxi drivers throughout the eastern part of the country, Kudo reports that many have reported picking up ghost passengers.
In particular, she notes the experiences of seven drivers in Ishinomaki, a coastal town where over 6,000 people perished in the tsunami. One cabbie reported a woman getting into his taxi at Ishinomaki Train Station a month after the natural disaster. She directed him to go to the Minamihama district. When the driver arrived, there were no buildings left standing. At that moment, his passenger asked “Have I died?,” and upon looking in the backseat, the driver found his vehicle empty.
In a similar situation, another cabbie picked up a young male passenger, roughly age 20, who directed him to another part of the district. This area was equally devoid of buildings and, once again, the driver was shocked to learn that his fare had disappeared. Kudo’s investigation into these incidents showed that in every situation, the taxi drivers legitimately believed they had picked up an actual passenger, as all started their meters and most noted the experience in their company log books.
Yuka also found that none of the drivers reported any fear during their encounters with the ghost passengers. Each felt it was a positive experience, in which the soul of the deceased was finally able to achieve some closure. On its own, Kudo’s study is interesting, but cab drivers are not the only ones in Japan who have reported seeing ghosts in the tsunami-devastated towns. The police have received hundreds of reports from people who see ghosts where housing developments used to be and long lines of phantoms queued outside of former shopping centers. While the police have not found any concrete evidence of such events, they have begun collaborating with exorcists in the area.