Japan's Ghost Taxi Passengers

Photo: US Navy / Getty Images

For many decades there have been reports of phantom hitchhikers. In these stories, typically, a person is driving along (usually at night) and picks up a hitchhiker (usually a pretty girl). She's usually dad or very quiet. Then she either vanishes from the car, or after the driver drops her off at her destination, he later returns to that address only to find that the poor girl had died some months or years earlier.

There are lots of these phantom hitchhiker stories and the details among them vary, but the theme is always the same: the driver has picked up a ghost.

That scenario might be playing out right now in Japan, if we can take their taxi drivers at their word. In the aftermath of the country's devastating tsunami in March, 2011, several taxi drivers have reported that they have picked up fares that mysteriously disappear. They are believed to be the ghosts of the tsunami's victims.

In the warm summer months of 2011, one taxi driver picked up a female passenger wearing a coat, which he thought odd, considering the season. She asked him to drive her to Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, an area which had been severely hit by the surging waters. The driver asked if she was sure, reminding her that the area was nearly deserted. Her response, in a quivering voice was only, "Have I died?" When the cabbie turned to look at her, there was no one in the back seat.

Another taxi driver recalled picking up a 20-something passenger who sat in the back seat just pointing out the front windshield. Several times the driver asked the young man where he wanted to go, and finally he responded, "Hiyoriyama," meaning mountain. The cab driver took him to his destination, but upon arrival discovered that the man had vanished.

Hearing of these phantom encounters, Yuka Kudo, a Sociology graduate student at Tohoku Gakuin University decided to conduct a survey of some of Japan's taxi drivers. She spoke to about 100 cabbies about the phenomenon and seven of them admitted that they had mysterious encounters, like the ones described above, in the months and years following the deadly tsunami.

Lest anyone suspects that the cab drivers might have made up the stories, taxi drivers must maintain strict logs about their fares and destinations. The logs verified the trips with the phantom passengers, and the fares either went unpaid or the cabbies had to pay for it themselves -- unlikely just to create a story.

Other ghosts are said to have been seen in the devastated coastal towns, wandering around where homes once stood.

15,983 people died as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. As many as 2,500 bodies were never found.