Johatsu - Evaporated People Phenomenon

The Evaporating Man

Japan is famous around the globe for its traditional arts, calligraphy, cultural ceremonies, the legacy of distinctive gardens, sculpture, and poetry. Japanese is the most advanced nation with the largest economy in the world. Whenever we hear the words technology or robotics Japan comes first into our minds instantly since this country has been investing in technology for decades. 

But did you know that Japan is one of the loneliest countries in the world? If Japan is spending on its people and trying to solve their problems, why the Japanese people are so depressed? There are many hidden mysteries about Japanese culture and that also includes the “Johatsu phenomenon”.

What is Johatsu?

In the Japanese language, Johatsu means “evaporated people”; people who have voluntarily chosen to disappear out of their existing identities due to the failures in their life, for example, they were ashamed of losing jobs, divorce or failing exams, etc. and hence want to start a new life. 

The phenomenon was revealed to the world when in 2008 a French journalist name Lena Mauger was told by a friend about couple disappearances. The people were neither kidnapped nor died, they just vanished in the thin air around midnight. Further, Mauger’s friend told her that it’s a widespread phenomenon that each year thousands of people go underground to become “Johatsu”. This made Mauger’s curious to document the mysterious disappearances in a modern country like Japan and using all the possible resources to trace disappeared people. So for the next five years, Mauger along with her photographer husband named Stephane Remael kept documenting the facts that they found. 

However, vanishing is not in the country’s official statistics. Japan’s National Police Agency registered around 82,000 missing persons in 2015 and The Missing Persons Search Support Association of Japan (MPS) argued that the un-registered number is around 10,000. Most of the disappeared people either came back home on their own or were found by the police, or by the detectives hired by their families, and some were found dead. An estimate tells that around 20,000 people were never seen again by family, friends, or colleagues.

Where do Johatsu-people live?

There is an underworld society in Japan that is not seen by the casual observers. Night Movers are the ones who secretly moves the Johatsu to the underworld society without disclosing their location, sometimes a whole team comes to move Johatsu. This society even has some cities that are considered ghettos; A part of a city where people live as a result of social, legal, or economic pressure. These places have scrubbed from the map, so people can disappear to Ghettos such as “Sanya” and “Kamagasaki” since these areas are run by the Japanese mafia known as “Yakuza”. That’s why taxi drivers avoid these shady neighborhoods. Johatsu needs no identity card or government paper in-order to live in this society, they can find cheap hotels and apartments so they can melt away into the local culture. Moreover, they can find jobs by either doing something legal or illegal and receive payment in cash. 

Why people disappear? 

In Japan, there were a lot of reasons that led to disappearances. One of them is Hikikomori; a psychiatric disorder in which a person prefers to stay alone because of criticism or embarrassment. It is something lesser than an extreme version of a Johatsu, and both suffer because of the extremely difficult culture. Life is absolute torture when you are a salaried person in Japan, these men work until late at night. In 2016, data of more than 20% of Japanese companies showed that their employees worked 80 hours in excess per-month. And these conditions perpetuate a well-known phenomenon of karoshi or death by overwork. But it didn’t end here, employees have to work in an extremely torturing environment where the senpai; a higher status person has the authority over the Kohai; a junior. According to the culture, kohai has to respect senpai but it’s something more than giving or taking respect. Kohais are considered slaves to senpai, they have to open doors, give up their seats for them, ask for a drink and even in the elevator kohai has to ask the senpai on which floor they want to go. Senpais yells at kohais in front of their colleagues for no reason, they can’t even leave the party unless senpai orders them. In short, they are treated as servants under the banner of respect.

How Japanese culture force individuals to be Johatsu?

A professor of the sociology of Japanese name Takehiko Kariya explains why the existence of Johatsu is more likely to be in Japan than in other countries. For the past 20 years, schools have developed creativity and individual expression but the social environment and workplace remained unchanged. There is no difference between a fresh graduate and a salaryman from the ’80s, both find themselves in the same hierarchical office milieu. Vacation time has become shorter, working hours have become longer, discipline and teamwork have ossified over two decades. 

Unfortunately, Japan has a culture, where leaving a company is considered shameful. Japan has no laws against discrimination. Women face discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace on regular basis. For instance; a pregnant woman might get fired or demoted if employed. Women are constantly exploited sexually by men, some hotels even offer privacy to boss and secretary in mid-afternoon. A person is not only discriminated against by race or color, but also by blood type. An article published in Japan explained why type Bs have the worst behavioral qualities by correlating blood types and personality traits.

Japanese culture introduced the phenomenon of Johatsu. Familial and community support structures have disintegrated, resulting in lonely and depressed people, embarrassed by their failures. The unbending culture leads to the disappearances, “Johatsu” a taboo that no one is allowed to talk about. Japan tries to cover up the phenomenon by providing tempered data, different experts and organizations argued that the actual statistics are way higher than estimated. 

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