An old, disconnected black telephone stands in a telephone booth in the town of Otsuchi, about 20 minutes’ drive from Kamaishi, 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” (“the phone of the wind”), Sasaki set up the phone 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.
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 tsunami in March 2011. In the town, 1,285 people died or went missing, about 10 percent of the town’s population. Forty people, including the mayor, died in the former town office.
“Come home soon. From your father, mother and grandparents.” Sasaki found this message in the notebook in the autumn of 2013, and eventually met the family who had written it. They were looking for their son, who went missing in the disaster.
Sasaki said messages in the notebooks have changed as time has passed. 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.
One morning in early July, I visited the garden to find a photo in the telephone booth in which an apparently foreign man is smiling at someone. I felt like someone had just had a conversation with him.
On Tuesday, 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,” Sasaki said. “I want people to resume their lives as soon as possible by expressing their feelings.”