People suddenly disappeared in Japan

Every year Japan records thousands of jouhatsu, people who suddenly “evaporate” without leaving a trace, cutting off all social contact.

In the Japanese port city of Osaka, the Kamagasaki slum, also known as Airin Chiku, is famous as a hideout for people who don’t want anyone to find them. Here, newcomers can rent houses at very cheap prices and make a living doing manual labor.

This slum is considered a paradise for “jouhatsu”, meaning people who “evaporate, disappear without a trace” in Japanese. The term emerged in the 1960s, when many people chose to disappear to get rid of their spouses quickly and easily, rather than go through complicated divorce proceedings.

Over time, more and more people choose to “evaporate” in areas like Kamagasaki, where they can change their names, cut off all contact with family and friends, and literally disappear from their old lives to start a new life.

Sociologist Hiroki Nakamori told BBC that because Japanese people value privacy very much, “jouhatsu” can live completely hidden away without anyone finding out. When families report someone missing, the police will not give them any information.

“The police will not intervene unless there is another reason, such as a crime or an accident,” Nakamori said. “All relatives can do is pay a lot of money to hire a private detective, or wait.”

One such “evaporated” person is Masashi Tanaka, 49 years old, who decided to disappear after serving a prison sentence for drug crimes. He said that after going to prison, his mother said: “I consider you dead, don’t write to me anymore.” Not long after being released from prison, Tanaka went to the Kamagasaki slum and lived alone.

In the annual report published in June 2023, Japanese police said nearly 85,000 Japanese people went missing in 2022. In the previous 10 years, Japan recorded an average of 83,283 missing people each year, of which Men are always taller than women.

Many missing people in Japan choose to intentionally “evaporate”, not letting anyone know. Many cases involve cultural norms, gender roles, and social expectations.

Crowd at an intersection in Shibuya, Tokyo, capital of Japan, April 2023. Image: AFP

40 years ago, when Kazuko Yamamoto was in her final year of college, her stepfather quietly sold his house and car. During the night, the family loaded their belongings into the truck, telling neighbors that Yamamoto was moving to an apartment near the school.

But it wasn’t just Yamamoto that moved away, the whole family quietly disappeared into the night. Her stepfather took her along with him and her mother to secretly move to a new place in another area of ​​the city.

Many people disappeared due to debt, escaped from the hands of the yakuza, some people wanted to cut ties with their families due to being criticized and abused by family members. Sugimoto, 42 years old, suddenly left his hometown under pressure to take over the family business. He went to Tokyo to rent an apartment in a housing complex run by Saita, a woman who also disappeared 17 years ago to escape her abusive husband.

There are also people who choose to “disappear” because they failed an exam, lost their job, or had financial troubles, which shows the dark side of Japanese work culture, notorious for the phenomenon of “karoshi” – death from overworked. According to Perspectivethis phenomenon reflects the Japanese people’s strong sense of shame when they fail to meet high expectations from society.

Yamamoto’s stepfather used to run a successful architectural company, but then went bankrupt due to guaranteeing a debt for a relative.

“He decided to file for bankruptcy of the company and left with the whole family, no one knew where we were,” Yamamoto said, saying that at one point creditors even came to her school to collect debt from her stepfather.

Such a “disappearing” need led to the emergence of night moving services, which especially flourished when the Japanese economic bubble burst in the 1990s. A night moving company said the price had changed. Service costs about 300-2,000 USD depending on time and distance. Moving prices will be higher if customers travel with children or avoid debt.

“At first, I thought financial difficulties were the only reason why people disappeared, but later discovered that there are many social reasons. What we do is support people to start a second life. two,” said Sho Hatori, who runs a moving company serving “jouhatsu”.

Pedestrians in Tokyo, Japan, October 1, 2022. Image: AFP

Paul O’Shea, a Japan researcher at Lund University, Sweden, commented that many Japanese people always feel discriminated against for “not being able to take care of themselves”.

Observers even believe that the Japanese government uses this psychology as a tactic to save social security budget, because before considering a subsidy application, officials will approach the applicant’s family. to ask if they can continue to provide economic or emotional support to this person.

“Having to rely on subsidies in Japan is considered a failure, extremely humiliating,” expert Paul explained. This pushes many people to seek “evaporation” measures to relieve pressure.

According to him, the concept of traditional gender roles in society may be the cause of this discrimination. Although Japanese society is gradually changing, men are always considered the breadwinners and must ensure the support of family members.

“Many Japanese men work in low-paying, unstable jobs that do not meet the expectations of taking care of the family,” Mr. Paul said, saying this may be the reason why the number of men who disappear is often higher than that of women. female.

Pedestrians in Tokyo, Japan, February 2023. Image: AFP

While many “jouhatsu” were never found, Yamamoto’s family was eventually discovered by authorities after her stepfather asked local officials not to make the family address public. Yamamoto’s stepfather was fined and stripped of his voting rights for two years.

This man has finally paid off his debt, although relatives, friends, and neighbors still do not know his whereabouts. “We evaporated, but no one who had new contact with the family knew that. To them, we were just a normal family, moving in next door,” Yamamoto said.

But for many people whose loved ones have disappeared, the search process is tiring and painful.

“I’ve been in shock since my 22-year-old son left and cut off all contact. He disappeared after quitting his job twice, probably feeling ashamed of his failure. The police said they would only intervene if they were suspicious. The boy committed suicide, but my child didn’t leave any messages,” said an anonymous woman. “With the current law, all I can do is wait to see if my son is dead or not.”

By Editor

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