The “Vanishing Hitchhiker” is one of the most popular ghost stories/urban legends out there, and for me, probably the first real ghost story I ever read about. There are many variations of the story, but it usually involves a good samaritan driving along a deserted stretch of road at night, and coming across a hitchhiker, most commonly a young girl or older woman. The good smaritan picks up the hitchhiker, has some conversation with her (or him), and then ultimately discovers that the hitchhiker was a ghost – someone who just died, or someone who died a long time ago. Now it seems like a similar tale is making its rounds in Japan, in the aftermath of the terrible earthquake and tsunami disaster, where Japanes taxi drivers are picking up ghostly fares…
Taxi drivers in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, which had been devastated by the tsunami and earthquake of March 2011, began having strange encounters the summer after the devastation — and in record numbers — the summer after the tragedy. One driver picked up a woman wearing a coat. She climbed in his cab near Ishinomaki Station and told him, “Please go to the Minamihama (district).” The driver 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 behind him at the backseat. No one was there.
Another driver told a story of a man who looked to be in his 20s. When the driver looked into the rear-view mirror, his passenger was pointing forward. The driver repeatedly asked the man where he wanted to go. The passenger finally replied, “Hiyoriyama” (the mountain). When the taxi arrived there, the man had already disappeared.
Yuka Kudo, a university student majoring in sociology, included these two stories of paranormal activity in her graduation thesis. She also reported on seven other taxi drivers who also reported carrying “ghost passengers” following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Kudo turned these mysterious encounters into her own special project. She went to Ishinomaki every week to interview more taxi drivers. “Did you have any unusual experiences after the disaster?” she asked them all. Some of the drivers were very open to talking with her while others got angry at her for questioning them. In addition to the anecdotes about ghost-passengers, Kudo had other pieces of evidence: the driver’s logs where they’d jotted down the experience before even being asked about it; the fares that went unpaid when the ghost-passengers disappeared into thin air. One thing all the ghosts in the taxi drivers’ stories had in common was this: They were all young.
Interesting anecdotes, to be sure. I’m a sucker for a good vanishing hitchhiker story, and these stories seem to corroborate each other, but I can’t help but wonder if there is something else going on here. Perhaps a sort of mass hysteria? Some PTSD coping mechanism after the disaster? Or maybe it really is a city being haunted.