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“Disappearing”: how the Japanese die for society 

Why the people of Japan forever leave their families and choose the life of hermits.

In December 2016, the New York Post published an article about “disappearing people” in Japan. The story tells how the Japanese, who have lost their jobs, family or public respect, leave home forever to escape shame.

It is believed that the loss of public respect – the worst thing that can happen in the life of the Japanese. As a rule, many are looking for a way out of such situations through suicide . This is confirmed by statistics. About 25–27 thousand people commit suicide in Japan every year. Most of them are men who could not fulfill their financial obligations to their families.

But not every Japanese dares to part with life. Many choose another way – to disappear forever from the life of relatives and friends, having left in an unknown direction.

How can disappear

In Japan, there are no internal passports and social security numbers. The police has no right to request information on payments by bank cards. There is not even a single database of missing people in the country. According to rough police data, from 80 to 100 thousand people disappear in Japan every year.

No one can track the movement of such people inside the country, so it’s not hard to disappear for good. Moreover, the family of the “disappeared” usually does not report to the police about the loss. As a rule, relatives think that due to a difficult life situation, their loved ones committed suicide. Although the investigation of the journalist Lena Mauger describes the stories of people who tried to find their relatives, putting up announcements about the disappearance on their own.

In Japanese culture, where the whole life of a person depends on his reputation in society, it is considered that a person who has lost the trust of society has to choose: to become a shame for his family and thereby bring it down or disappear and carry his shame away with him. However, not all Japanese consider the “disappearance” tradition to be normal: some of the heroes of the investigation are confident that the Japanese authorities could solve this problem by understanding its premises.

Where do they go

French journalist Lena Mauger learned about the phenomenon of “evaporating people” in 2008. For the next five years, she and her colleague, Stefan Remel, collected information. According to them, most of the “endangered” live in the Sanya area – these are slums within Tokyo, which cannot be found on the map. Due to the fact that the district spoils the whole appearance of the capital, it was removed from the maps about 40 years ago. Tokyo residents call this area a city of wanderers and criminals.

Despite the fact that the “disappearing” remain citizens of their country, many of them live as illegal migrants, that is, they take on any hard and low-paid work, or are attached to the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Living in this area takes place in tiny, dirty rooms of hotels where there is usually no internet or a separate toilet.

Abandoned hostel of Takusyoku University in the heart of Tokyo. Photo by Chris Lukhardt, Flickr
Abandoned hostel of Takusyoku University in the heart of Tokyo. Photo by Chris Lukhardt, Flickr
Some fugitives stay in their cities, find a low-profile job and try not to catch the eye of their family and friends.

Films and books about the “disappeared”

For the Japanese, the theme of “disappeared” is forbidden. Residents of the country, especially the elderly, prefer to pretend that there is no such problem. Therefore, there are not many references to the phenomenon.

In 1967, Japanese director Shohei Imamura made a feature film about a woman who went in search of a missing lover.

In the late 1990s, Flight by Night TV series appeared on Japanese television, based on real disappearances. The show became a hit of that time and most fully reflected all the specifics of the phenomenon.

In Flight by Night was shown the agency Rising Sun, which helped the desperate Japanese to disappear. It is noteworthy that the agency existed in real life, and its creator for a long time advised the writers of the series.

The only well-known book on the “endangered» – of The Vanished: of The “Evaporated the People» of Japan in Stories and Photographs of journalists Lena Mauger and Stephen Remmeles. The small book describes in detail the stories of the “disappeared” or their relatives, which the authors managed to collect in five years of work. Journalists met with each of the characters in person to record their stories.

Kazufumi, 66, was a successful broker until he lost more than $ 3 million on unsuccessful investments. Kazufumi had to flee from his family and lenders. At first he lived on the street, but after he was able to organize a small office for the removal of debris and corpses from the slums of Sanya, and then began to help other people to disappear. By the way, it was he who was the consultant to the directors of the series Flight by Night.

The 20-year-old Masao did not return home from prison. He did not want his parents to be ashamed of him and went to live in Sanya, confident that the relatives did not look for him and decided that he was already dead.

Fifty-year-old Norihiro used to be an engineer. He had a family – a wife and son, but once he was fired from his job, and he could not admit this to his relatives. A week after his dismissal, he put on a suit every morning and pretended to go to work. After some time, he realized that he could no longer deceive his wife, so he left home and decided not to return.

Otaku as a new form of escape

Most young Japanese consider “disappearance” to be a relic of the feudal past and not the best way to get rid of the feeling of shame in front of family and society. Therefore, despite the fact that in Japanese culture, uniformity still remains more important than individuality, and the national maxim sounds like “A nail that knocks out, you need to drive”, for those who want to live differently, there is a way out.

Instead of hiding from family and friends, the Japanese can become otaku – that is, people who lead a parallel life as a favorite anime character. Some otaku dress up in costumes, finding themselves and at times disappearing in an alternate reality.

Some otakus lead the lives of hermits and do not leave the house. Others constantly spend time in the clubs of Akihabara, a district of Tokyo, where computer equipment, anime, and other items for otaku are sold.

Clubs and community for otaku appeared in Japan in the early 1980s. For 30 years, the otaku movement has become so popular that according to the latest survey, which was conducted in Japan in 2011, every fourth Japanese from 20 to 30 years old considers himself an otaku.


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