"Evaporating people": what are the Japanese going to wash away the shame from their family

Being married, the master of martial arts Ichiro with optimism made plans for the future. Together with his wife Tomoka, they lived in their own home in Saitama, a prosperous suburb of Tokyo. They had a firstborn, Tim. The family took a loan to open the dumplings. But suddenly there was a default, and the spouses were in debt. They did what hundreds of thousands of Japanese do in such circumstances: they sold their house, packed their things, and disappeared. Forever and ever.

Among the many oddities that are inherent in Japanese culture, the phenomenon of “evaporating people” remains obscure. Since the mid-1990s, approximately 100,000 Japanese have disappeared in the country annually. They themselves are expelled from society because of the experienced humiliations of various scales: divorce, debt, dismissal from work, failed exam.


French journalist Lena Mauger learned about it in 2008 and spent five years researching the phenomenon of “evaporating people”, telling stories of Japanese people,in which she herself could not believe. “This is a taboo. This can not be said. But people disappear because they know that they will be able to survive at the bottom of Japanese society, ”says Mauger. These lost people live in ghost towns, which they built themselves.

Sanya City is not marked on any map. From a technical point of view, it is not at all. These are slums within Tokyo, the existence of which the authorities prefer to remain silent. The territory is under the control of the Yakuza, a criminal organization that employs people to do illegal work. The “evaporated” live in tiny squalid hotel rooms, often with shared toilets and without internet access. In most of these hotels it is forbidden to talk after six in the evening.

Here Mozhe met Norihiro, a 50-year-old man who made his disappearance 10 years ago. He cheated on his wife, but the real shame for a man was that he lost his job as an engineer. Because of shame, he could not tell his family about it. During the week, Norihiro behaved the same way as usual: he got up early in the morning, put on a suit and tie, took a briefcase, kissed his wife goodbye, then drove to his office’s office building and sat in the car all day, did not eat who did not speak.The fear that his lies would be revealed was unbearable.

“It could not go on forever. After seven in the evening I still had to wait in the car, because often after work I went to drink with my superiors and colleagues. When I returned home, it seemed to me that my wife and son were starting to suspect something. I felt guilty. I could no longer contain them, ”says Norihiro.

On payday, he put on clean ironed clothes and took the train in the direction of Sanya. He did not leave the family any note, and all his relatives believe that the man went to the forest of Aokigahara, where he committed suicide.


Today he lives under a false name, in a room without windows, and the door locks onto a padlock. He drinks a lot and smokes. Practicing this masochistic form of punishment, the man decided to live the rest of his days. “After all these years, I could come back. But I do not want my family to see me in this state. Look at me. I look like nothing. I am the insignificance. If I die tomorrow, I don’t want to be identified, ”admits Norihiro.

Yuichi is a former builder who disappeared in the mid-1990s. He was supposed to take care of the sick mother, but went bankrupt because of the cost of medicines for her. “I could not survive that did not meet the expectations of the mother.She gave me everything, but I was not able to take care of her, ”says the man.

Yuichi settled his mother in a room in a cheap hotel and left her there. His act may seem paradoxical, even perverse, but not for Japanese culture, in which suicide is considered the most worthy way to erase the shame that has fallen on the family. “You see people on the street, but they have already ceased to exist. Having fled from society, we disappeared, here we are slowly killing ourselves, ”says Yuichi about Sanya, the place where he moved.

Most of the cases of “evaporation” in Japan were after two key events: defeat in World War II, when the whole country experienced a sense of national shame, and during the financial crises of 1989 and 2008.

Underground organizations began to appear to provide services to those who wanted to pass off their disappearances as abductions. In the homes of these people, they organized a pogrom so that everything was like a robbery, they made false documents so that they could not be traced.

For nine years, Shu Hatori ran a company that helped people “evaporate”.

One of these organizations was the company "Night Transfers", which was opened by Shu Hatori.He was engaged in a legal business - furniture transportation - until one day a woman approached him with a question if he could help her "disappear with the furniture." She complained that because of her husband’s debts, life had become unbearable.

Hatori took for his services 3.4 thousand dollars. He faced various clients: housewives who spent all the family savings, wives who left their husbands, and even students who were tired of living in a dormitory.

When Hatori was a child, his parents also fled, being in debt. He believed that he was doing a good deed by helping those who turn to him: “People often call it cowardice, but over the years I have realized that this is only for the benefit of everyone.” In the end, Hatori gave up this activity - however, he refused to share the details of his decision.

Hatori was a consultant on the set of the Japanese television series Night Flight. Telenovela, based on real cases of disappearances, became a hit in the late 1990s. In the center of the plot was the organization "Rising Sun", the prototype for which was the company Hatori.

Here is an excerpt from the description of the series: “Do you have financial problems? Are you deep in debt? “Rising Sun” is a consulting firm that you need.Too late for interim measures? Is escape or suicide the only way? Contact the “Rising Sun”. During the day, Genji Masahiko works in a reputable consulting firm, and at night helps desperate people start a new life. ”

A book about the missing, prepared by journalist Lena Mauger and photographer Stefan Remael.

Regardless of the reasons for the shame that forces the Japanese to “evaporate”, this does not make their families any easier. Many relatives are so ashamed that their loved one has disappeared, which, as a rule, they do not even report it to the police.

Those families that are trying to find "evaporated", turn to a private organization that keeps secret all the information of their customers. The address of the company is difficult to find, and its headquarters is a tiny office with one table and walls yellowed by cigarette smoke.

The organization consists of a network of private investigators, many of whom have personally experienced the disappearance or suicide of loved ones, and therefore work at no cost. On average, they investigate about 300 cases annually. Their work is complicated by the fact that in Japan there is no state database with data on missing people.Citizens of the country do not have documents with an identification number, such as a social insurance number or a passport, which would allow tracking a person’s movement around the country. The Japanese police also do not have access to information about banking operations.

“Most of the investigations break off halfway,” says Sakae Furuchi, the head of the investigative team. “The problem is the high cost of hiring private detectives: from $ 500 per day.” This is a very heavy amount for those whose loved one ran away due to debts. People who “evaporate” often change their names and appearance. Others simply believe that no one will look for them.

Kabukcho, the red light district in Tokyo.

Sakae managed to find a young man who once did not return home after the exam. A friend accidentally spotted him in southern Tokyo. Sakae wandered through the streets until he found this young man, who, he said, was shaking with shame. The young man was afraid that he would disappoint his family because he did not pass the exam. Thoughts of suicide attended him, but he could not commit suicide.

Sakae is now investigating the disappearance of the mother of an eight-year-old disabled boy.She “evaporated” on the day of her son’s performance at the school play, despite her promise to sit on the front row. No one has seen her since. The son and husband of the missing do not find a place for themselves: the woman never let anyone know that she is unhappy, suffering or regrets about some of her actions.

Sakae does not lose hope of finding her. “She's a mother,” he says. “Perhaps fate will bring her back to her close ones.”

The Tojinbo Rocks are known for record suicide rates.

According to the World Health Organization's 2014 report, the suicide rate in Japan is 60 percent higher than the world average. From 60 to 90 suicides per day are committed in the country. The centuries-old practice of depriving oneself of life goes back to samurai, who made hara-kiri, or kamikaze, military pilots of the Second World War.

Japanese culture also emphasizes the superiority of the group over the individual. “You need to drive a nail out” - Japanese maxim. Those who can not or do not want to fit into society and adhere to its rigid norms and fanatical diligence, it remains to "evaporate" in order to gain a kind of freedom.

For young Japanese who want to live differentlybut at the same time they do not want to break off relations with relatives, there is a compromise solution: to become an otaku, that is, periodically run away from reality, dressing up as your favorite anime character.

“The escape does not always have to be real. We dream of love and freedom, and sometimes we are content with a small one: a costume, learned by song or dance. For Japan, this is a lot, ”says a young man named Matt.

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