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Melissa Locker
February 05, 2016

Before you jump in a taxi on your next trip to Japan, you might want to check the back seat. Several taxi drivers in Ishinomaki, in Northern Japan’s Miyagi prefecture, have reported ghostly passengers hitching a ride in their cabs, according to MSN.

A few months ago a Japanese game show popularized a ghost taxi prank that scared the sushi out of unlucky passengers, but this is no game show trick. Asahi Shimbun reports that Yuka Kudo, a student at Tohoku Gakuin University, interviewed more than 100 taxi drivers in Ishinomaki for her graduation thesis, and found a local phenomenon of ghostly passengers drivers believe were killed a few years ago in the tsunami.

At least seven taxi drivers reported a similar experience. The drivers have pulled over to pick up a passenger, started the meter, and asked for an address. The customer gave an odd response—asking to be taken to an area of town destroyed by the tsunami or pointing at a distant mountain—and at some point on the ride, when the driver turned around, the passenger would be gone, vanished from the back seat. One driver even showed Kudo his driver’s report, which noted an unpaid fare, a real world side effect to a supernatural fare jumper.

According to Kudo’s research, the ghostly incidents started back in 2011, just months after Ishinomaki was ravaged by a tsunami, which, The Guardian reports, decimated more than 50,000 buildings and killed at least 3,162 of Ishinomaki's residents. Kudo reported that many of the seven cabbies noted that the 'ghosts' were young in age.

The earliest incident was reported just a few months after the tsunami, when a cab driver recounted picking up a woman in a long coat who asked to be taken to the city’s Minamihama district. He told the passenger, “The area is almost empty. Is it okay?” The woman replied, in a shivering voice, “Have I died?” When the cabbie turned around, she was gone.

While it may be easy to brush these incidents off as ghost stories, psychiatrists have identified “grief hallucinations” as a fairly common reaction to bereavement, and NYU neurologist Oliver Sacks noted that hallucinations can help people cope with loss. 

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