Don’t Wait For Sasaki’s Phone Booth

By | September 23, 2017

High atop a grassy hill in Otsuchi, Japan, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, sits an antique white phone booth.  Inside, there is  a single, archaic rotary phone with a small notepad and pen.  It is jarringly out of place in this rural setting.  Yet the impact of this vintage landmark is beyond description.

The phone booth’s owner, Itaru Sasaki, purchased the kiosk in 2010 to help him deal with loss of his beloved cousin.  The phone booth was both a symbolic gesture and a practical way to “call” his cousin and tell him how much he loved and missed him.  He soon dubbed it the “Wind Phone” as his voice would be carried from the booth out onto the winds to connect with the afterlife.

If that were the end of the story, it would be a unique and interesting piece.

But less than a year later, on March 11, 2011, a massive 9.1 magnitude earthquake struck Eastern Japan.  The subsequent tsunami sent black waves of devastation across the peninsulas and fishing villages along the coast.

In a single day, nearly 16,000 Japanese lost their lives.  The small town of Otsuchi was particularly decimated.  The entire province was underwater and over 10 percent of the population was wiped out within hours.

The normally stoic and proud people of Otsuchi now had to deal with grief on an impossible scale.  So where did they turn?  They turned to Sasaki’s idyllic phone booth.

At first, only a few villagers ventured up the hill to share their grief in the phone booth.  But soon, word spread across the entire eastern province about the cathartic  powers of the “Wind Phone”.  After a few months, Sasaki’s property resembled a Japanese “Field of Dreams”. Thousands of people pilgrimaged to the site to check in with their deceased loved ones and express their continued love.

To date, over 10,000 Japanese survivors have entered Sasaki’s phone booth .  A microphone was installed as part of a documentary and the subsequent film, as well as the podcast from “This American Life”, depict the poignant and heart-wrenching “conversations’ with the dead.

It is incredibly powerful.

But while the story demonstrates the beauty and reverence of how we grieve, there is another subtext and message for those left behind.

Why wait for the “Wind Phone” to communicate our appreciation and gratitude? 

Express Gratitude in Our Work Lives

In our work lives, there are countless people who make our success possible.  Our co-workers who inspire us with their work ethic.  Our admin and support staff who simplify our lives on a daily basis.  Our boss who removes obstacles and helps us safely navigate the internal waters.  How often do we express our appreciation?  How often do we tell them how much we appreciate their support?

And what about our clients?  They have placed their trust in us.  They have made a decision to embrace our brand, heed our advice, or benefit from our products.  How often do we thank them for their business?  How often do we pledge our loyalty in return?

Circumstances change quickly.  Clients, co-workers and staff are in constant flux.  We never know how much time we have in our current situation.  Why not take the time to express our gratitude today?

Loved Ones Deserve to Know How Much We Care

The same is true in our personal lives.  Our parents have sacrificed so much for us to live a life better life.  If you have had a chance to say a long goodbye, you are blessed.  If they are still alive, why wait for the phone booth?

Our spouse or significant other takes on so much so we can be happy.  How often do we express our true appreciation for their support and contributions?

Our children are dealing with tough decisions and pressure as they mature into adulthood.  Do we tell them how incredibly proud we are even when they fail?

And what about the coach who stood in the rain trying to make us better?  Or the teacher who stayed late to help the night before a test? Or the athlete who never complained about playing time but still practiced hard for the team?  Or the classmate who helped us understand the home work?  Or the friend who always listened in our time of need?

Don’t they deserve to know how much we care?

It is so easy to take those closest to us for granted.  Sometimes, we need to step back and appreciate all the amazing people in our lives.  Sasaki’s phone booth provides the ultimate perspective.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

Not all of us can easily express our emotions.  It is hard for some of us to share.  That is okay.  I am not suggesting that we need to run around hugging each other and singing Kumbaya.  Everyone has their own way of showing gratitude.  A knowing wink or a sincere nod can be an understated but powerful expression.

But we are all capable of some acknowledgement.  We are all capable of expressing appreciation and gratitude.  We are all capable of letting our inner circle know how much we appreciate them.

Tell those closest to you how much you care.  Do it today.

Don’t wait for Sasaki’s phone booth.

Until next week, keep smiling!

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