Mysterious disappearances in Japan

The Vanishing Japanese: Inside the Secret World of ‘Jouhatsu’

In Japan, thousands of people disappear each year without a trace, leaving behind no social contact. The term “jouhatsu” emerged in the 1960s when individuals started disappearing to avoid complicated divorce proceedings. Since then, more and more people have chosen to evaporate in places like Kamagasaki, where they can start anew by changing their names and cutting off all ties to their past lives.

Sociologist Hiroki Nakamori explains that Japanese culture values privacy greatly, which allows “jouhatsu” to live hidden away without anyone finding out. When someone goes missing, the police do not provide information unless there is a crime or accident involved. Families are left with no choice but to hire private detectives or wait for any news.

Masashi Tanaka is just one of many individuals who chose to disappear after serving a prison sentence for drug crimes. He went to the Kamagasaki slum to live alone after his mother disowned him. The phenomenon of “jouhatsu” reflects cultural norms, gender roles, and social expectations in Japan. Many people choose to disappear due to debts, escaping from yakuza, or wanting to cut ties with abusive family members. Some escape due to failed exams, job losses, or financial troubles, highlighting the dark side of Japanese work culture notorious for “karoshi” – death from overwork.

Paul O’Shea, a Japan researcher, points out that many Japanese feel discriminated against for not being able to care for themselves. The concept of traditional gender roles in Japan may contribute to this discrimination, pushing individuals to seek “evaporation” measures. While many “jouhatsu” remain unfound, some cases are eventually discovered by authorities. The search for missing loved ones can be tiring and painful, leaving many families in uncertainty with the current laws being unable to provide any answers or closure.

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