In Japan, a 'wind phone' links people with their departed loved ones

A disconnected telephone called Kaze no Denwa, or the Phone of the Wind, stands in a booth on a small hill in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture. PHOTO: THE JAPAN NEWS-YOMIURI

TOKYO (WASHINGTON POST) - An old, disconnected black telephone stands in a telephone booth in the town of Otsuchi - about 20 minutes' drive from Kamaishi in the Iwate prefecture.

The phone has been visited by at least 25,000 people since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, people who have come to convey their feelings to departed loved ones "through the wind".

The phone was set up by 72-year-old garden designer Itaru Sasaki in his garden, on a small hill with a commanding view of the calm sea in the Namiita area of Otsuchi.

Calling it Kaze no Denwa, or the Phone of the Wind, Mr Sasaki set it up after the death of his cousin.

The garden is open to all, and there is a notebook placed by the phone, the fourth such notebook to be used. Many people have left messages for their loved ones in the books.

Mr Sasaki began work on the booth in November 2010, and completed it shortly after the disaster. Newspapers and other media reported on it, and many people who had suddenly lost a loved one began to visit.

Located on the Sanriku coast, Otsuchi was devastated by a tsunami in March 2011. In the town, 1,285 people died or went missing - about 10 per cent of the town's population.

Forty people, including the mayor, died in the former town office.

Mr Sasaki found this message in the notebook in the autumn of 2013: "Come home soon. From your father, mother and grandparents."

He eventually met the family who had written it.

They were looking for their son, who went missing in the disaster. After graduating from a university, their son had started working at an IT firm and was visiting Otsuchi on a business trip when the disaster struck.

The mother revealed her feelings to Mr Sasaki, saying: "I have no idea what I've been doing since that moment. Time has stood still for me since that day."

Mr Sasaki said messages in the notebooks have changed as time has passed since the disaster. People have started to accept the deaths of their loved ones, writing things such as "Please watch over us from heaven".

In addition to people lost to the earthquake and tsunami, families who lost a loved one in an accident or from suicide are also coming to the garden to reflect on their memories of that person.

The phone has become known even overseas, and there are messages in the notebooks recalling people lost abroad.

On Tuesday (Aug 15), Mr Sasaki's book, titled Kaze no Denwa - Daishinsai Kara Rokunen, Kaze no Denwa wo Tooshite Mieru Koto (The Phone Of The Wind - What I Have Seen Via The Phone In The Six Years Since The Earthquake), was published by Kazama Shobo.

"The telephone is not connected, but people feel like their lost loved ones are there listening on the other end of the line," Mr Sasaki said. "I want people to resume their lives as soon as possible by expressing their feelings."

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