Grief hits us in unique ways. It can hide, numb, or pang. However, it most definitely is not easy and can even take a toll on our physical well-being. The day to day life for those who suffered tremendous loss during the 2011 tsunami in Japan is still finding its way to normalcy. Temporary structures continue to face construction as the town in Otsuchi rebuilds itself. With an unstable outer environment, it can be even more difficult to find serenity over the loss of loved ones. In the midst of it all, Japan’s ‘wind phone’ connects the living with loved ones who have passed away by allowing them to process loss in a safe space and in their own way.
Local resident, Itaru Sasaki had been healing from grief before the tsunami made it to the town. After losing his cousin, he built a structure to deal with painful emotions and connect with loved ones.
“Because my thoughts couldn’t be relayed over a regular phone line,” Sasaki told the Japanese TV channel NHK Sendai. “I wanted them to be carried on the wind.”
With an appearance similar to an old phone booth, the kaze no denwa, or ‘wind phone,’ plays a major role in the grieving process to this day. After the tsunamis hit, up to 16,000 residents lost their lives unexpectedly leaving loved ones to carry their memory.
The phone booth has a distinct charm to it. Painted white with windows throughout, it represents a sense of purity and openness. Residents from all over travel to connect with friends and family lost to the tsunami. The phone isn’t connected to a landline or outlet. Instead, it sits perfectly unattached yet connected through the power of love and belief.
Having a specific place to practice a ritual sets the tone for how it will progress. In this example, the sacred space the ‘wind phone’ creates gives visitors a place to release pent up emotions, share stories, and keep memories alive. The same way one might write a letter yet never send it, the “wind phone” is a tool in letting the healing process unfold.
It’s been five years after the natural disaster and the “wind phone” stands as a pillar connecting the living with loved ones on the other side. While the town is still under construction, this landmark serves as a reminder of the fragility nature beholds.
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