Posted on: February 15, 2016

When this story first appeared in the media in January 2016, I found it incredibly moving.  Phantom hitch-hikers have been sighted all over the world, and they are often eerie and unsettling.  The ghosts of Ishinomaki are also heart-breaking.

In March 2011 Japan was hit by a devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami, resulting in the deaths of over 15,000 people, with nearly 3,000 still unaccounted for.  Ishinomaki, a coastal town in north-east Japan, suffered the loss of over 3,000 lives.

Yuka Kudo, a sociology student at Tohoku Gakuin University, decided to interview local taxi-drivers as part of her thesis, asking them if they had experienced anything unusual in the aftermath of the disaster.  She approached a 100 drivers.  Some refused to talk to her, some became angry, but seven responded with eerie tales of ghostly cab passengers.  It is  in the classic phantom hitch-hiker mode, in that someone hails a ride, and then inexplicably vanishes before (or as) they reach their destination.

One young man asked to go to the Hiyoriyama mountain, but had vanished when the cab arrived at their destination.  One heart-breaking incident happened just a few months after the disaster, in the summer of 2011, when a cabbie collected a young woman at the Ishinomaki Station.  She said “please go to the Minamihama [district]”.  The cabbie queried if that was where she really wanted to go, pointing out that the devastated area was almost empty.  The passenger replied, in a trembling voice “have I died?”  When he turned to answer her, he found the back seat empty.

Yuka was convinced by the sincerity of the drivers’ stories, saying that in each case they had started their meters, meaning that they would have to pay for the fare out of their own pockets.  Curiously, all of the ghostly passengers were described as young.  The drivers are respectful of their unearthly customers.  One said “if I encounter a ghost again, I will accept it as a passenger”.

There have been reports of other spectral sightings in this area too, including phantoms who appeared disfigured, walking down the streets where they used to live, and even queues of spectres lining up outside shops which are no longer there.

UPDATE: at the end of July 2016 Russia Today (yes I know, pinch of salt time) reported that eerie CCTV footage had captured the image of a strange woman climbing into the back of a cab.  A man approaches the cab, and opens the door to get in the back.  Suddenly a woman seems to appear out of nowhere.  She is hunched over, her long black hair completely obscuring her face – which gives everything a very Ring-like feel – and climbs in after him.  Skeptics have argued that the footage has been edited to show the woman appearing instantly.  I was trying to see if I could tell if the man appears to leave the door open for her to get in, instead of instantly slamming it behind him, but the footage is too fast to tell.





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