SENDAI--In early summer 2011, a taxi driver working in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, which had been devastated by the tsunami a few months earlier, had a mysterious encounter.
A woman who was wearing a coat climbed in his cab near Ishinomaki Station. The woman directed him, “Please go to the Minamihama (district).” The driver, in his 50s, asked her, “The area is almost empty. Is it OK?” Then, the woman said in a shivering voice, “Have I died?”
Surprised at the question, the driver looked back at the rear seat. No one was there.
A Tohoku Gakuin University senior majoring in sociology included the encounter in her graduation thesis, in which seven taxi drivers reported carrying "ghost passengers" following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Yuka Kudo, 22, went to Ishinomaki every week in her junior year to interview taxi drivers waiting for fares. She asked them, “Did you have any unusual experiences after the disaster?”
She asked the question to more than 100 drivers, and many ignored her. Some became angry. However, seven drivers recounted their mysterious experiences to her.
Another taxi driver who was in his 40s told of an unexplainable occurrence.
According to the driver, a man who looked to be in his 20s got in his taxi. When the driver looked into the rear-view mirror, his passenger was pointing toward the front.
The driver repeatedly asked the man for his destination. Then, the passenger replied, “Hiyoriyama" (mountain). When the taxi arrived there, however, the man had disappeared.
The seven drivers' accounts cannot be easily dismissed as simple illusions. That is because if a passenger climbed in their taxi, the driver started the meter, which is recorded.
If the passengers were indeed "ghosts," they were still counted as riders. As a result, the drivers were forced to pay their fares.
Some of the seven drivers jotted down their experiences in their logs. One showed his driver’s report, which noted that there was a fare that went unpaid.
As the "ghosts" the drivers encountered were all youthful, it is believed they could be the spirits of victims of the 2011 disaster.
“Young people feel strongly chagrined (at their deaths) when they cannot meet people they love. As they want to convey their bitterness, they may have chosen taxis, which are like private rooms, as a medium to do so,” Kudo said.
What impressed Kudo was that the drivers did not have any fear toward their ghost passengers, but held them in reverence. They regarded the encounters as important experiences to be cherished.
The taxi drivers were feeling the daily sorrow of residents in Ishinomaki where many people were killed by the tsunami. One said that he lost a family member in the disaster.
Another said, “It is not strange to see a ghost (here). If I encounter a ghost again, I will accept it as my passenger.”
Kudo came from Akita Prefecture, which was not struck by the tsunami. Before interviewing taxi drivers, she had only thought of the victims as “thousands of people” who had died in the disaster.
“(Through the interviews,) I learned that the death of each victim carries importance,” she said. “I want to convey that (to other people).”
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