The Mystery of Japan's 'Evaporated People'

'Time' looks at the phenomenon of 'johatsu'—the 'society underneath Japan's society'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 2, 2017 3:05 PM CDT
Updated May 6, 2017 4:54 PM CDT
The Mystery of Japan's 'Evaporated People'
How many people disappear in Japan—and where do they go?   (Getty Images/tdub_video)

The Japanese have no problem working insane hours—sometimes to the point of death—but when it comes to dealing with life's other stresses, they may simply pack it all in and vanish. It's what's known as "johatsu," or "evaporated people," a phenomenon Joseph Hincks delves into for Time. Per an estimate by Lena Mauger, a French journalist who's written a book on the subject, almost 100,000 Japanese citizens disappear annually when they can't "lose the black dog of depression, throw the monkey of addiction from their backs, or buck the horns of sexual impropriety," as Hincks puts it. This has led to what Mauger calls an alternative society beneath Japan's public-facing one, in which desperate citizens seek shelter in "shady" areas scrubbed from city maps. But not everyone buys Mauger's theories, with one critic telling Hincks that parts of Mauger's narrative are "fantasy at best."

Hincks ran into conflicting missing-person numbers during his search deep in a culture where being "spirited away" is part of the country's legends. What he did find were "yonige-ya," or "fly-by-night shops" that specialize in helping people such as domestic-violence victims flee, which can cost clients thousands of dollars. The CEO of one such firm, Yonigeya TS, says one of its goals is to "fill the gap" for abused citizens in a way law enforcement and shelters perhaps can't. But violence isn't the only reason TS draws clients, with some trying to escape debt or employers, or even for no apparent reason. For those who can't pay to employ a professional disappearing team, there are always DIY guides, with one boasting the tagline: "Abandon your sad, pathetic reality." More on the mystery here, including the industry that tracks down the missing parties. (Japan workers are now encouraged to enjoy "Premium Fridays.")

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