The Wind Phone

By Laura Imai Messina

For thousands of years, there have been little-known places in distant corners of the earth that humans have been afraid to enter – portals between the realm of the living and the realm of the dead. Many of them are in caves, holes in the ground or at the tops of mountains, like in Aomori where blind female shamans commune with the spirits of the deceased. These places are often hidden from sight and frightening to approach. It’s almost as if they are telling us: ‘you need to dig in the dark, through fear, and only then will the divine reveal itself’.

But today in north-east Japan, there is a frontier between life and death that is not so frightening. Perched on a steep hillside in a luxuriant garden where the seasons blow through in all their vivacity is Bell Gardia. That’s where my husband are I are going today. To Kujira-yama, the Mountain of the Whale, to meet Sasaki Itaru, the custodian of one of the world’s most powerful sites of resilience.

The Wind Phone is not a tourist destination. Don’t look for it on a map. Don’t try to find Kujira-yama unless you intend to pick up that heavy receiver and talk to somebody you have lost.

Don’t go there with a camera around your neck, don’t bring out your phone, instead hold your heart close. Caress it as you proceed along the path that leads to the phone box; reassure it that everything is OK. Allow it to open up.

There are places in the world that must continue to exist, beyond our experience of them. Like the Amazon rainforest, or Selinunte in Sicily, or the sculptures of Easter Island. Places that must remain, whether we visit them in our lifetimes or not. Bell Gardia is one of those places.

I personally experienced profound hesitation about going there. I justified not going for years by saying I had too much work on, it was too far from Tōkyō, that the area damaged by the 2011 disaster was too hard to access. I even blamed it on pregnancies, breastfeeding, and tiny children running around. The truth is that I was afraid of taking something, of stealing time and space from someone who needed it more than I did.

While writing my book, The Phone Box at the Edge of the World, I understood how important it is to write about hope. The task of literature is to suggest new ways of being in the world, to connect the here to the there. For me, the Wind Phone is mainly this: a metaphor that suggests how precious it is to hold on tight to joy as well as pain. That even when we are confronted by the subtractions, the things that life takes from us, we have to open ourselves up to the many additions it can offer too.

Sasaki Itaru and his wife manage the garden of Bell Gardia alone. If you would like to support the existence of this wonderful place and the charitable foundation that the Wind Phone depends on, which also organises many activities throughout the year to support the area and those who live there, take a look at the official website.

There you will find out how to donate.

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