The tsunami disaster in 2011 left large parts of Japan in ruins. And some of the people never being found, are still trying to reach home it seems. This is the story of the Ghosts of the Tsunami.
It was a totally normal day. At least the morning was. It was supposed to be a totally normal day in 2011. It was mid day, so everyone was at work, busy filing papers, building buildings that would soon be torn down. Children sat in class at school, trying to learn something they would get on a test some would never even take. It was supposed to be a normal day. But then, the tsunami hit. Several tsunamis, up to about 10 metres rushed in over the coast of Japan after a massive earthquake.
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The event was known as 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami or Great East Japan Earthquake (東日本大震災). It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan, and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900 with a magnitude of 9.1.
The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that may have reached heights of up to 40.5 meters (133 ft) in Miyako in Tōhoku’s Iwate Prefecture and people got as little as ten minutes to evacuate before it hit them.
After the waves of the tsunami hit, the entire city of Ishinomaki by the coast of Japan would never be the same again. After six minutes the entire city was under water and taking six thousand of the population with it. Half of those have not even been found. Soon after the survivor started talking about the ghosts of the tsunami that never found their way home.
The Tragedy of the Primary School
One of the big tragedies that the tsunami created was the primary schools that were affected. Especially what happened at the Ishinomaki primary school, the city with most deaths. 70 of the 180 students was sitting in the classrooms that morning would never finish school.
When the teachers of the school finally got a notification of the oncoming tsunami, they were put in an impossible situation and spent too long making a decision if they should evacuate or not. And when they first group of children tried to run away the teacher chose a route that would lead them right were the tsunami hit and the teachers and students disappeared in the chaos as they tried to cross a bridge on their way to safety.
Later it was exactly the teachers that were blamed for the death of the towns children. A year later one of the teachers committed suicide, burdened by guilt and responsible of the children they weren’t able to rescue. Only the ruins of the school was left when the water retreated, and the ghosts of children was left in the form of the extra shoes, the homework that would never be done and the toys that would never be played with, ever again.
Ghost Passengers in Taxis
Over the decade since the tsunami hit, the echo of the humans that got their life broken by the power of nature. Several reports over the years tells that it’s been seen people that wanders headless, without arms and without legs in the places that was badly affected by the natural disaster. It is not just a particular name or person that is said to haunt the place. It is what we may call a Mass Haunting of the ghosts of the tsunami.
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The ghosts of the tsunami wander the streets, on the hunt after the city they knew when they were alive. Many of the cities had to be completely rebuilt after the disaster and there is not much left of the place before the tsunami took it too the sea. The ghosts of the tsunami stands in line outside of the ruins of shops that were taken by the wave and walks the streets that are no longer there.
Perhaps it’s not so weird then, that so many of these stories about the ghosts of the tsunami are told by taxi drivers that they think can guide them home. We have a lot of research and reports on this phenomena thanks to the many rumours about it and a particular university student who wanted to look closer at this phenomenon a few years back.
Yuka Kudo did her investigation on the haunted taxi drivers picking up ghosts of the tsunami as part of a school assignment. She tried to interview drivers about strange encounters they had while out driving. Most of them told her no and ignored her, perhaps not having experienced anything of the sorts. Perhaps it was because they had experienced too much. But those taxi driver who were willing to talk, told of many experiences with ghost passengers, looking for their home that no longer existed after the tsunami.
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The stories about the ghosts of the tsunami told from the taxi drivers are very similar to one another. All the taxi drivers are sure they pick up completely normal passengers that are alive and well and know were they are going. The taxi drivers let the meter running and are told to go to a specific place. But when they arrive, there are never any passengers in the back seat, even if they had no stops on the way and the backseat door never opened or closed during the drive. Another thing is that the passengers, all seems so young, so full of life.
“Young people feel strongly chagrined (at their deaths) when they cannot meet people they love,” Yuko Kudo says about her findings after interviewing them. “As they want to convey their bitterness, they may have chosen taxis, which are like private rooms, as a medium to do so,” she says about the ghosts the taxi drivers encounters on a regular basis in the areas most affected by the natural disaster.
The Ghosts of the Tsunami in the Destroyed District
One of the stories involving a ghost of the tsunami happened in Ishinomaki in northeastern Miyagi Prefecture in Japan. This is as mentioned one of the cities that experienced most deaths and destructions to the city, and not much was left.
One of the men working as a taxi driver told that a young woman sat in the taxi near Ishinomaki station once, only a couple of months after the tsunami disaster. The incident was still fresh, many of the dead had not even been found and there was a lot of confusion going on. As of 17 June 2011, a total of 3,097 deaths had been confirmed in Ishinomaki due to the tsunami, with 2,770 unaccounted for. The female passenger told the taxi driver to go to Minamihama, a district in the town.
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The taxi driver reacted to her destination. He wondered why she wanted to go there anymore. Because it was one of the districts in town there was nothing left of after the tsunami had powered its way through and left nothing. He asked her about it and it was a silence from the backseat a while before the young woman said: “Have I died?” The driver turned, but there was no one in the backseat anymore.
The Collective Trauma of Ghosts
So exactly what is the particular nature of the ghosts of the tsunamis? One might be tempted to call them a process and thing of a collective trauma that the entire community had to start processing at the same time. No wonder that the concept of ghosts are easier to believe in than the aftershock the natural disaster left entire cities in.
It is convenient maybe, so many ghosts trapped in one place after one particular event. Perhaps it’s more convenient for the people left and a way to grieve the loss of too many at once. The ghosts of the tsunami acts like echo of all those people disappeared, those they could not rescue, and those they would never see again.
Seeing the ghosts of the tsunami, at least means they are not completely gone.
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