By Cailey Rizzo
January 12, 2017
Phone booth to the dead
Credit: Dex Image/Getty Images

In 2011, an earthquake and tsunami tore through Japan. Almost 16,000 people died during the natural disaster and many communities across the country still have not recovered.

But one coastal Japanese town is dealing with its grief in a unique way—a white telephone booth with glass panels. The phone booth, which only has a disconnected rotary phone inside, has become a popular destination for residents who are still dealing with grief. It sits atop a grassy hill in Otsuchi, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Otsuchi is a town that was decimated in the disaster. The entire area caved in within 30 minutes and 10 percent of the town’s population was killed.

But one year before the disaster, Itaru Sasaki installed the phone booth in his garden to help himself move past the death of his cousin. “Because my thoughts couldn’t be relayed over a regular phone line,” Sasaki told This American Life in September. “I wanted them to be carried on the wind.”

The booth has since become the “wind phone” and has become a sort of pilgrimage for those dealing with the death of a loved one. In the three years after the disaster, the booth received over 10,000 visitors, according to local reports.

Some come to make one special phone call. Others are regular visitors who dial up deceased loved ones and fill them in.

In the years since it became a pilgrimage point, the wind phone has been the center of both a TV documentary and a NPR special report.

For those who wish to visit, Otsuchi is accessible from Tokyo by either high-speed rail or a seven-hour car ride. The phone booth is located on a hill just outside of the city.