Vanished: The Evaporated People of Japan

Yesterday I read a book, translated from the French, by journalists Lena Mauger and Stephane Remael, called Vanished: The “Evaporated People” of Japan in Stories and Photographs.

I don’t know much about Japan and I had never heard anything about this, but apparently it’s a pretty normal thing for people to leave and never come back, and according to the authors over half of these disappearances are never reported to the police. There were a lot of them in the nineties especially when Japan’s economy was on the rocks.

There’s a name for it: evaporating. Sometimes it’ll be just one person from the family — a breadwinner who lost his job, a college student son who failed an important exam — and sometimes the entire family will go. Many of the evaporated people wind up committing suicide within a few days of leaving, but many more will just pop up somewhere else in the country and start over. There’s an entire neighborhood in Tokyo full of these people.

In fact, there are even entire companies whose job it is to help people evaporate. Mauger and Remael talked about a company called something like “Midnight Movers.” By day they moved furniture; by night they moved people. They didn’t have to advertise the people part; the “midnight” in their company name was a hidden indication that they were willing to move more than just your stuff. The price was the equivalent of like $5,000, around three times the cost of an ordinary move. The whole “midnight movers” concept sounds like it could become a movie or even a TV show here in the States.

Anyway. Check out the book if you’re interested.

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6 thoughts on “Vanished: The Evaporated People of Japan

  1. Tom Cole October 9, 2016 / 1:48 pm

    100,000 a year seems too high. That’s a big city every year. Just makes me wonder.

    • Meaghan October 9, 2016 / 3:46 pm

      Well, these people don’t disappear ENTIRELY. They just reappear, somewhere else. Sometimes they don’t even bother to change their names. Often their families don’t look for them because to have an evaporated person in the family is considered shameful.

      The two French journalists did interview some private detectives who looked for evaporated people. It’s very expensive to hire one, of course, and there’s no guarantee of success, and if you find an evaporated person it’s hard to convince him or her to return. And if they do return, it’s never really the same — the family relationships are shattered by what happened. It’s about what you would expect, really.

  2. Brian Lockett October 9, 2016 / 3:19 pm

    I wonder how many “endangered missing” persons (i.e. some kind of foul play was involved) there are in Japan. I couldn’t find any on DoeNetwork (I know that Charley Project focuses mainly on the US) and I couldn’t find any MP databases pertaining to Japan.

    The few stories I could find from Japan were usually disappearances like in that book (suicides or hiding from shame in some way).
    http://www.japan-guide.com/forum/quereadisplay.html?0+86958

    I took a Japanese class in HS and worked at a couple of sushi places (albeit they were all in Kentucky) and noted that most of the language that I learned related to courtesy or politeness.

    Those kind of sayings in English wouldn’t help a Japanese person visiting here very much. Our society seems to revel in shameful things. The Kardashians are famous because the daughter of a rich and famous lawyer made a sex tape that was “leaked.” Actually, I don’t personally understand the family’s fame/fortune. And or the past decade, politics have been driven by racist and misogynistic rhetoric.

    I know there have been serial killers, rapists and the like existing in Japan. We don’t hear about it much over here. Could it be that it embarrasses them and don’t publicize them like we do?

    • Meaghan October 9, 2016 / 3:52 pm

      Well, there was that Japanese guy who killed and ate a European student and became kind of a celebrity. I’ve read about many Japanese murderers, including the serial kind, but I have no idea if that sort of thing gets much press coverage in Japan or not. This book I read, it’s not available in Japanese. It was written in French and translated into English, but it’s never been translated into Japanese and I doubt you can buy in Japan.

      The journalists interviewed one family whose son basically walked off into thin air at the age of 23, around ten years ago. The family, unlike most families of the missing in Japan, has been very vocal about it, appearing on TV etc. They theorize their son was taken by North Korea. NK has kidnapped some Japanese people, but it’s very unlikely that that’s what happened to this young man. No evidence of foul play or suicide, no goodbye note or other proof that he evaporated, but the book obviously leans toward evaporation — they wouldn’t have written about him otherwise.

      • Brian Lockett October 13, 2016 / 12:22 pm

        “500,000 elderly people go missing in China every year”
        http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/12/asia/china-elderly-missing/index.html
        (CNN 10/12/2016)

        I just saw this and it reminded me of the story about Japan’s vanishing people. China just recently changed its “one child policy” and hopefully that will help their aging population. If one of those single children happen to die, move far away or somehow emigrate, there won’t be anyone to look after the parents in old age.

        I may have read it wrong, but it sounded like they were saying that the older people with declining memory or mental health just up and wander off. I take it they meant that they wander off because their child isn’t there to watch after them. But I’m not sure who is actually reporting them missing since their child (no child-ren) isn’t there to know how they’re doing.

        I wonder who’s supposed to be tending to them in that situation, or even know that they even exist. Some kind of government geriatrics department???

        I know they have a whole different type of society in that part of the world, but the “people running away to kill themselves” makes more sense to me. There’s more people in Japan’s families to notice them going away. I still don’t understand who is reporting the senile Chinese elderly missing since it’s not their children (or siblings, since they couldn’t really have any).

  3. Lois Lydon October 14, 2016 / 9:19 am

    Thanks for the recommendation Meaghan. Just reserved at my library. It should be interesting.

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