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Bizarre phenomenon of ‘evaporated people’ where clients pay thousands to disappear

Bizarre phenomenon of ‘evaporated people’ where clients pay thousands to disappear

In Japan, hundreds of thousands of people go missing each year. As many as 100,000 of those people are thought to be 'evaporated people'

In Japan, hundreds of thousands of people go missing each year. As many as 100,000 of those people are thought to be Jouhatsu, aka 'evaporated people'.

We've all had thoughts of going off the grid when life gets too overwhelming - getting up and walking away from the stresses of our everyday life. But actually orchestrating that is pretty difficult in the modern world, what with the prevalence of CCTV and the traceability of our phones and debit cards.

But over in Japan, there's a rise in a bizarre phenomenon operating in the shadows called Jouhatsu - which literally translates to 'evaporation' or 'evaporated people' - where individuals orchestrate their own disappearance.

'Evaporated people' are thought to be on the rise in Japan.
Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

In fact, it's apparently so prevalent that businesses known as ‘yonige-ya’, or ‘night moving’ companies, have begun popping up aimed at making the process of vanishing easier, from providing places to stay to redirecting mail and making sure no one is on a client’s tail.

In some cases, night moving companies are run by fellow Jouhatsu with their own experience of vanishing without a trace.

In the early 2000s, Miho Saita escaped a violent partner by disappearing with only her car and her dog, and has since become the CEO of Yonigeya TS Corporation, a company that claims to help as many as 150 people vanish each year.

"When we ask where do you want to go, they say ‘I don’t know, I just want to change myself. I don’t belong here'. They are looking for a new place, a new world," she told TIME in 2017.

"I just kind of escaped."

What pushes people to walk away from their lives varies, but among the many reasons people may turn to Jouhatsu are financial difficulty and work-related problems as they grapple with a rising cost of living. There's also a huge stigma against bankruptcy in Japan, which brews a culture of shame and in turn, puts people off seeking help.

In fact, according to a Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare survey conducted in 2016, over 90 percent of Japanese companies reported employees vanishing into thin air, with no warning or trace.

45-year-old Sugimoto, an 'evaporated person' who left his wife and children behind, spoke to the BBC in 2020 about his decision to go missing.

For the families left behind, it can be harrowing.

"I got fed up with human relationships. I took a small suitcase and disappeared," he said. “I just kind of escaped."

While it may have felt like the only option, 'evaporating' is by no means an easy decision, leaving many like Sugimoto filled with regret and sadness even years after they walked out the door and never came back.

“I constantly have a feeling that I’ve done something wrong,” he said. “I haven’t seen [my children] in a year. I told them I’m on a business trip.”

The term ‘Jouhatsu’ is believed to have first started being used to describe people as vanishing back in the 60s, during a time when divorce rates were exceptionally low in the country. For some, it was just easier to disappear than to go through divorce proceedings.

Sociologist Hiroki Nakamori, who researches the phenomenon, said: “In Japan, it’s just easier to evaporate.

“Police will not intervene unless there’s another reason – like a crime or an accident. All the family can do is pay a lot for a private detective. Or just wait. That’s all.”

But for the families left behind, it can be excruciating.

Hundreds of thousands go missing each year in Japan.

A woman who wanted to remain anonymous told the BBC her 22-year-old son vanished out of nowhere and hasn’t contacted her since.

"I was shocked," she said. “He failed after quitting his job twice. He must have felt miserable with his failure."

Despite driving to his house to search and waiting there in her car for days after, the answers never came. He simply never came home.

She claimed police haven't done much since they can't establish it was a suicide due to there being no note.

“I understand there are stalkers – information can be misused. This is a necessary law, perhaps. But criminals, stalkers and parents who cannot search for their own children? All of them are treated the same way due to the protection. What is this?

“With the current law, without money, all I can do is check if [a] dead body is my son – the only thing left for me.”

Featured Image Credit: Patricia Phillips / Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Topics: World News, History