Friday, December 16, 2016

Japan's "evaporated people"

Of the many oddities that are culturally specific to Japan — from cat cafés to graveyard eviction notices to the infamous Suicide Forest, where an estimated 100 people per year take their own lives — perhaps none is as little known, and curious, as “the evaporated people.”

Since the mid-1990s, it’s estimated that at least 100,000 Japanese men and women vanish annually. They are the architects of their own disappearances, banishing themselves over indignities large and small: divorce, debt, job loss, failing an exam.

The Vanished: The Evaporated People of Japan in Stories and Photographs” (Skyhorse) is the first known, in-depth reportage of this phenomenon. French journalist Léna Mauger learned of it in 2008, and spent the next five years reporting a story she and collaborator Stéphane Remael couldn’t believe. ...

“It’s so taboo,” Mauger tells The Post. “It’s something you can’t really talk about. But people can disappear because there’s another society underneath Japan’s society. When people disappear, they know they can find a way to survive.”

These lost souls, it turns out, live in lost cities of their own making.

The city of Sanya, as Mauger writes, isn’t located on any map. Technically, it doesn’t even exist. It’s a slum within Tokyo, one whose name has been erased by authorities. What work can be found here is run by the yakuza — the Japanese mafia — or employers looking for cheap, off-the-books labor. The evaporated live in tiny, squalid hotel rooms, often without internet or private toilets. Talking in most hotels is forbidden after 6 p.m. ...

A shadow economy has emerged to service those who want never to be found — who want to make their disappearances look like abductions, their homes look like they’ve been robbed, no paper trail or financial transactions to track them down.

Nighttime Movers was one such company, started by a man named Shou Hatori. He’d run a legitimate moving service until one night, in a karaoke bar, a woman asked if Hatori could arrange for her to “disappear, along with her furniture. She said she could not stand her husband’s debts, which were ruining her life.”

Hatori charged $3,400 per midnight move. His clientele was vast: from housewives who’d shopped their families into debt to women whose husbands had left them to university students who were sick of doing chores in their dorms.
--Maureen Callahan, New York Post, on halfway suicides