Ghosts aren't real, of course. But if they were, and if they needed a fertile haunting ground, they might choose the portion of Japan's Miyagi Prefecture that was utterly devastated by tsunami waves that killed thousands in March, 2011. If you ask cab drivers who work in the area, they will tell you there are definitely earthbound spirits wandering the zone where the ocean roared ashore and erased almost everything.
As first reported in The Asahi Shimbun, chilling encounters in the flood zone date back to the summer following the tsunami, which was caused by a 9.0 earthquake and which killed nearly 16,000. One cab driver's story was particularly haunting:
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.
Yuka Kudo, a Japanese sociology major, included seven similar tales from other cabbies in her graduate thesis. She told the Asahi Shimbun she'd asked numerous drivers if they'd had such experiences but only seven went on the record.
One fortysomething driver told of looking at a young male passenger in the rear-view mirror. The passenger was mute, simply pointing forward. After repeated questions as to destination, the passenger said one word, "Hiyoriyama."
When the cabbie stopped to let him out, the passenger had vanished from the rear seat.
Many of the cabbies supposedly made notes in their logs regarding the encounters and even activated their meters after apparently otherworldly passengers entered their vehicles.
One thing links the spooky tales: the alleged ghosts are young. Yuka Kudo told Asahi Shimbun there was a logical explanation for this: "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."
Many cab drivers seem surprisingly philosophical about the visitations, one saying if he encountered another fare he identified as a ghost, he would accept it.
Of course, ghosts are the stuff of Scooby Doo, the X-Files, and crazy late-night paranormal talk shows. In this instance they could be psychological manifestations of a society's collective anxiety and fear after a disaster as huge as the 2011 tsunami.
They could also simply be college kids acting freaky and trying to cop a free ride home.
We'll stick with that explanation for now, as the image of mute and pointing shades in the back seat or pale, mysterious passengers unclear as to whether they're dead is a little too goosebump-inducing to even want to take seriously.