Tohoku, Japan's northeastern region, is known for its harsh climate and remote location, which has led to it being considered a "backwater" area. Additionally, there are negative stereotypes associated with the people of Tohoku, such as being reserved, stubborn, and difficult to understand.
Tohoku's residents are often viewed as being reluctant to express their thoughts and emotions, instead bottling them up and remaining silent. However, these traits were seen as a strength in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 disaster, when a massive earthquake was followed by a tsunami and a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors.
The Tohoku Earthquake of March 2011 was a magnitude 9.0 earthquake that caused a tsunami on March 11th, resulting in the deaths of almost 16,000 people in Japan. The tsunami, with a height of 133 feet and reaching 6 miles inland, caused catastrophic damage. It has been nearly 10 years since this tragic event occurred.
After the disaster, survivors scrambled to locate their missing family and friends amidst the destruction. Even now, more than 2,500 people remain unaccounted for.
It is understandable that the survivors are having a difficult time coping with such a high level of loss. However, a study conducted by Yuka Kudo, a sociology student at Tohoku Gakuin University, suggests that not only are the living struggling to make sense of the tragedy but the dead as well. Through interviews with over 100 taxi drivers in the eastern part of the country, Kudo found that many reported picking up ghost passengers.
Many taxi drivers in eastern Japan have reported picking up ghost passengers, who are believed to be victims of the disaster still drenched in water, even on sunny days. Some have reported being hailed by passengers with soaking-wet hair and asking to be taken to abandoned areas of the city. Some passengers have even asked if they were dead.
Another taxi driver recounts a story of a man who asked to be taken to a mountain before disappearing. In a similar incident, another driver picked up a young male passenger, around 20 years old, who directed him to a part of the district that had been heavily affected by the disaster. The area was empty, and the driver was shocked when the passenger disappeared.
The ghost passengers, resembling the "phantom hitchhiker" urban legend, were typically young people. Sociology student Yuka Kudo theorizes that they might be feeling strong regrets over their untimely deaths and being unable to meet loved ones. They may have chosen taxis as a private space to convey their bitterness.
Kudo's research found that all the taxi drivers who reported these incidents genuinely believed they had picked up real passengers. They all turned on their meters, and most of them recorded the experience in their company logbooks.
Yuka's study also revealed that none of the drivers reported feeling afraid during their encounters with ghost passengers. Rather, they all viewed it as a positive experience, in which the deceased's soul was able to find closure. Though many of them have learned to avoid picking up passengers in those specific areas.
Kudo's study is intriguing on its own, but taxi drivers are not the only ones in Japan who have reported encountering ghosts in the areas affected by the tsunami. The police have received numerous reports from people who have seen ghosts in areas where housing developments and shopping centers once stood, including reports of long lines of phantoms waiting outside of these former businesses.
Many have reported seeing figures walking past their houses in the evening, mostly parents and children, groups of young friends, or grandparents with children. The people were all covered in mud. Although the police have not found any concrete evidence of such events, they have started working with exorcists in the affected areas.
Many local priests who perform exorcism reported that people believed they were seeing ghosts, even if one does not believe in the supernatural. The belief in ghost sightings became so widespread that university academics started documenting the stories and priests were frequently called upon to quell the spirits that in some cases, could even possess the living.