When a Japanese college student started corresponding with taxi drivers in Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture for her senior sociology thesis, some became irritated, while others pretended they didn't hear her, Asahi Shimbun reports. But seven out of 100 drivers actually answered Yuka Kudo's odd question—"Did you have any unusual experiences after the [2011 tsunami] disaster?"—with responses that were both eerie and oddly similar. They all reported experiences with "ghost passengers," riders they say entered their cabs after the tsunami that killed nearly 16,000, then disappeared before the ride was over. One driver, for example, recounted a woman who got into his cab asking, "Have I died?" and was gone before they reached her destination, while another tells the tale of a man who asked the driver to take him to a mountain before he vanished.
The supposed riders involved in the account—which the San Francisco Chronicle compares to the "phantom hitchhiker" urban legend—were generally young people, and Kudo has a theory about that. "Young people feel strongly chagrined [at their deaths] when they cannot meet people they love," she tells Asahi Shimbun. "As they want to convey their bitterness, they may have chosen taxis, which are like private rooms, as a medium to do so." But the drivers don't seem overly spooked by the incidents. "It is not strange to see a ghost [here]," one driver says. "If I encounter a ghost again, I will accept it as my passenger." Japanese taxi drivers start the meter as soon as a passenger gets in, and these drivers all reportedly ended up paying the unpaid fares for their mysterious riders. ("Ghost ships" with corpses were showing up near Japan recently.)