Ghosts in Taxis

The Fukushima disaster, following the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami in March 2011, is continuing to plague Japan and Japanese society. Most reports are about the hardships of survivors, the cleanup efforts, the contamination of sea water and the long-term effects to the area’s inhabitants and wildlife.

But a 22-year-old student majoring in sociology decided to dedicate her thesis to a very different issue concerning the Fukushima Disaster aftermath: ghosts.

The student, Yuka Kudo, interviewed taxi drivers in the Ishinomaki area, which was devastated by the tsunami. Seven of them reported having taken ghosts as passengers in their taxis. Here are a couple of examples, from this Asahi Shimbun article:

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.

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.

These sightings were reported shortly after the disaster, in 2011 and 2012. Now there is an academic thesis paper on this phenomenon. Needless to say, this is pure poppycock. I’m sure the sociological aspects of these stories are fascinating, but it sounds like the young university student actually believes these stories are true! But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Japan has a long tradition of belief in ghosts, and many Japanese (including my Japanese teacher) believe in the existence of ghosts.

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Not a ghost

When a person dies, after the proper funeral rites are administered, their spirit joins its ancestors and comes back to visit once a year, during the Obon festival in August. But those who die in sudden and violent circumstances and therefore have not gone through the proper funeral rituals, apparently become Yuurei (幽霊) – literally “faint souls”. They act as a bridge between our world and the afterlife, so they come visit us from time to time. There are many types of Yuurei, enough to feed the imagination of millions of Japanese.

By the way, because the passengers ghosts disappeared before paying, the taxi drivers ended up having to pay the fare out of their own pockets…

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