Translated and Sourced from Shigeru Mizuki’s Mujara, Japanese Ghost Stories: Spirits, Hauntings, and Paranormal Phenomena, and Other Sources
To learn more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost
The yūrei of Japan have been riding taxis again. While they tend to eschew trains and busses, since taxis appeared around the late Taisho period yūrei have been hailing cabs for quick rides around town.
In Japan Ghost Passengers, taxi drivers have been reporting ghostly passengers who climb on board, ask to be taken to a destination, then mysteriously vanish before paying their toll. The recent spate of ghostly passengers have been attributed to the 2011 Fukushima disaster, as the dead struggle to find their way home—or may not even know they are dead.
This is no new phenomenon. One of the first things I ever wrote on yūrei was Tales of Ghostly Japan for Japanzine back in (I think) 2005:
True Tales of Tokyo Terror Taxis
The cabdriver knew that the ghosts of Japan were not confined to ancient graveyards and shadow-haunted shrines. Any modern resident of the nation’s capital could tell you that the taxis of Tokyo are more haunted than hearses, and his own route took him regularly through open gates to the spirit world. There was Sendagaya tunnel, which winds beneath the cemetery of Senjuiin Temple, or Shirogane tunnel, where legend has it that screaming faces are silhouetted against the tunnel’s pillars and through which the Shinigami – the spirit of Death itself – is said to pass. All of his fellow cabbies could wax a yarn of passengers who got on then disappeared, or of catching a glimpse of a woman or child’s face in the rear view mirror. He too had a story to tell.
It was a stormy autumn night, near Aoyama Cemetery, where he picked up a poor young girl drenched by the rain. It was dark, so he didn’t get a good look at her face, but she seemed sad and he figured she had been visiting a recently deceased relative or friend. The address she gave was some distance away, and they drove in silence. A good cabbie doesn’t make small talk when picking someone up from a cemetery.
When they arrived at the address, the girl didn’t get out, but whispered for him to wait a bit, while she stared out the window at a 2nd floor apartment. Ten minutes or so passed as she watched, never speaking, never crying; simply observing a solitary figure move about the apartment. Suddenly, the girl asked to be taken to a new address, this one back near the cemetery where he had first picked her up. The rain was heavy, and the driver focused on the road, leaving the girl to her thoughts.
When he arrived at the new address, a modern house in a good neighborhood, the cabbie opened the door and turned around to collect his fare. To his surprise, he found himself staring at an empty back seat, with a deep puddle where the girl had been sitting moments before. Mouth open, he just sat there staring at the vacant seat, until a knocking on the window shook him from his reverie.
The father of the house, seeing the taxi outside, had calmly walked out bringing with him the exact charge for the fare. He explained that the young girl had been his daughter, who died in a traffic accident some years ago and was buried in Aoyama Cemetery. From time to time, he said, she hailed a cab and, after visiting her old boyfriend’s apartment, asked to be driven home. The father thanked the driver for his troubles, and sent him on his way.
The Vanishing Hitchhiker
Anyone with a knowledge of folklore can easily recognize these tales of disappearing passengers as The Vanishing Hitchhiker. It is an ancient legend—the oldest known account dates back to ancient Rome, when Proculus meets a traveler on the road, who disappears after revealing himself as Romulus, one of Rome’s legendary founders. The story is known in almost every country with slight variations. In his 1981 book The Vanishing Hitchhiker, Jan Harold Brunvand says the legend has “recognizable parallels in Korea, Tsarist Russia, among Chinese-Americans, Mormons, and Ozark mountaineers.”
The story has a basic pattern. A driver picks up a passenger; either a customer for a taxi cab or a hitchhiker. The passenger requests a destination, and the two chat a bit while the driver speeds along. When the arrive at the destination, the driver turns around to find the passenger vanished—always leaving some trace of the phantom passenger to prove they existed. The trace can be a lost glove, or a puddle of water from the rain, or evidence on a taxi meter. There is often some additional confirmation, such as a graveyard with their name, or a father coming out to pay the fare.
They are always told as true stories, not legends—and maybe they are.
Driverless Yūrei Taxi Cabs
In his yokai encyclopedia Mujara, folklorist and artist Shigeru Mizuki records a different type of haunted taxi—the driverless vehicles known as 無人車幽霊タクシ—Driverless Yūrei Taxis.
In about 1931, there were rumors of a driverless taxi that drove the streets in the vicinity of the Imperial Palace. At night, taxis would line up for passengers, and they often saw a taxi whizzing dangerously through the streets. Looking inside they could see no one at the wheel. After the car was gone, they would look on the streets but could find no trace of its passing. However, those that saw the care would inevitably meet with an accident within two days. Taxi drivers that worked near the Imperial Palace were terrified of glimpsing the phantom vehicle.
Similar driverless vehicles were reported on the Gotemba interchange between Tokyo and Nagoya, and in the Namba area of Osaka. Most reported the cars as white and travelling at unsafe speeds.
The Phantom Rickshaw
There are older tales from the same area near Gotemba, of a white rickshaw that would travel through town without anyone pulling it. The rickshaw often had a family crest painted on the back, and was attributed either to a murdered member of that family, or to a yūrei from a nearby burial mound. Apparently across the years the spirit has upgraded himself to modern technology.
Who knows what vehicle he may ride in the future?
This entry was an answer to the numerous people who sent me the MSN story of modern taxi yūrei currently haunting Japan. It was great to see the ghosts of Japan are still up to their old tricks! And nostalgic remembering my very first yūrei article written more than 10 years ago!
I also wanted to have something new for Folklore Thursday on Twitter! If you are a fan of legends and lore, join in the fun every Thursday!