February 24, 2017

The Phone of the Wind

Dealing With Grief: Japanese Phone Booth Connects The Living And The Dead by Krissy Howard

Called "the phone of the wind," this device allows Japanese mourners to leave messages for those who died in the 2011 earthquake.

 Phone Of Wind2

Positioned atop a grassy hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a phone booth in Otsuchi, Japan allows living people to call their dead relatives and loved ones. Called the “phone of the wind,” the disconnected rotary phone positioned inside a glass booth allows callers to send verbal messages to those they’ve lost, which the wind then carries away....Some enter in search of answers, others to express their longing. Many call just to check in, assuring their loved ones that they and those left behind are doing well.
After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which claimed the lives of more than 800 Otsuchi residents, the phone booth became a popular destination for residents and travelers from afar and has since welcomed more than 10,000 visitors in its nearly six years standing.

The value in telephoning the dead by Chris Kavanagh

The so-called ‘wind phone’ (kaze no denwa) is comprised of a simple disconnected rotary phone which is located in a white phone booth that overlooks the Pacific ocean.  The phone is owned by a 70 year old gardener named Itaru Sasaki who had installed the phone in his garden prior to the disaster in order to give him a private space to help him cope with the loss of his cousin....

The phone-booth was featured in a documentary by the Japanese public broadcaster NHK during the five year memorial of the tsunami and they managed to get permission from both the visitors and Sasaki to record and broadcast some of the conversations that people were having in the booth.  These recordings, with English translations, make up the bulk of a segment on This American Life called Really Long Distance by Miki Meek which you can listen to at the link.

A poignant point that is raised repeatedly is just how mundane most of the conversations are, with people relating events from their daily life and, in stereotypical Japanese fashion, reassuring the dead that they are working hard and telling them not to worry.

The author of the piece Chris Kavangh, an atheist, continues

....when listening to this segment it is impossible to ignore just how much power a simple disconnected phone line is providing to people who are suffering terribly and how it manages to help them process their grief precisely because of the unconventional, irrational scenario that it represents. Everyone visiting the phone-booth understands that it houses just an old rotary phone with a disconnected phone-line, but this knowledge does not prevent them from instilling their one way conversation with deep personal meanings....

There is no exploitative religious authority here, just a kind hearted gardener, and no dogmatic doctrines, just a vague belief that the dead persist and that it is worth interacting with them. I can’t honestly agree with anyone who would argue that our world would be better off without these kind of ‘delusions’ existing.
Posted by Jill Fallon at February 24, 2017 12:41 PM | Permalink