Connecting with Departed Loved Ones Through Japan's Wind Phone

Out on a small hill in the town of Otsuchi  stands a British style telephone booth, with its distinctive glass panes looking out to a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean. But unlike the regular iconic British telephone booths, this one is white, intimating a sacred space in the middle of a tranquil garden. Inside the phone booth is a nondescript black rotary dial phone, its neatly looped wires not connected to anything.  Beside it is a notebook with some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful and tender thoughts, feelings and remembrances. This is the  風の電話 (Kaze no denwa) or Wind Phone.

Itaru Sasaki, a garden designer in his 70s, set up this phone booth in 2010, as a place to grieve  the death of his cousin. He saw it as a place to add a physical dimension to his desire to connect with his cousin and allow his thoughts and feelings to be carried by the wind. A few months later in March 11, 2011,  Tōhoku was struck  by one of the most powerful earthquakes and tsunamis that ever hit the country and the world. Otsuchi is located on the Sanriku Coast and was one of the towns devastated by the double disaster. Ten percent of the town's population (1,285 people out of 16,000 ) died or went missing. When people learned about Mr. Sasaki's phone booth, they made their way here to use it to talk to their loved ones as if the latter were listening at the other end.

This American Life produced a podcast (entitled "One Last Thing Before I Go") featuring some of the conversations recorded on the Wind Phone. There's laughter. There are sniffles of tears being held back. Through the most ordinary of conversations, the powerful undercurrent of emotions are clearly discernible: the regret, pain of loss, despair, guilt, frustration, search for strength, hope and the will to carry on without the loved one. There is a frequently used Japanese term of Zen Buddhist origin: gaman (我慢). In its most casual use, it means "to bear something," "to be patient" or "to persevere." Its full meaning is more accurately: "enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity." People around the world often pay tribute to the quiet dignity with which the Japanese bore their great loss. But gaman has a great price. For many mourners, visiting the phone booth is their very first time to acknowledge their grief. When he created this hallowed ground for remembering, Mr. Sasaki has done a tremendous service to the community.

"Mourners are magnificent," says writer and chaplain Kate Braestrup about the people who have just lost a loved one. "You can trust a human being with grief." This has proved to be movingly true again and again in the telephone booth on the small hill in the town of Otsuchi.
Inside the booth via
The garden is open to all and has since been visited by some 25,000 people. The exact location of this phone booth is: 手県上閉伊郡大槌町浪板9-36-9 or in romaji, 9-36-9 Otsuchi-cho Nakayama, Kami-kui-gun, Iwate Prefecture 028-1101. It is about a 20 minutes drive from Kamaishi. The nearest train station is Namiitakaigan station (浪板海岸駅 ) of the JR Yamada Line.

The mourners are magnificent. Via

Wind Phone via

Sherilyn Siy