FACE OF AN ECONOMY: Thousands of “evaporated people” are “disappearing” in Japan

A Journal of People report

Thousands of Japanese citizens have reportedly started leaving behind their formal identities. They are seeking refuge in the anonymous, off-the-grid world. They are tormented by the shame of a lost job, failed marriage, or mounting debt.

A report by Chris Weller said on May 1, 2017:

“In Japanese, the word is johatsu, or ‘evaporated people’.

“Tormented by the shame of a lost job, failed marriage, or mounting debt, thousands of Japanese citizens have reportedly started leaving behind their formal identities and seeking refuge in the anonymous, off-the-grid world.

“That’s according to a recently-published book called The Vanished: The ‘Evaporated People’ of Japan in Stories and Photographs by French author-photographer pair Léna Mauger and Stéphane Remael. The book features a collection of vignettes from people who have fled modern society in search of a more secretive, less shame-filled life.”

The Business Insider report said:

“Mauger and Remael spent five years traveling around Japan beginning in 2008, earning the trust of locals to learn about the troubling trend. They also met the loved ones of those who disappeared: abandoned fathers, housewives, and ex-lovers. No formal government data exists on the trend, but by the pair’s research more than 100,000 people ‘disappear’ annually.

“None of these people physically vanish, per se; the ‘evaporation’ is more of an administrative disappearance. Similar to those in the Witness Protection Program in the US, johatsu opt to change their names, addresses, and business ties. They can essentially wipe the slate clean.”

The report headlined “‘Evaporated people’ could be disappearing from Japanese society by the thousands” said:

“In Japan this escape can be surprisingly easy, Public Radio International reports. Japanese privacy laws give citizens a great deal of freedom in keeping their whereabouts under wraps. Only in criminal cases can the police mine people’s personal data, and relatives can’t look up financial records.

“As Mauger told The New York Post in December, the disappearing acts stem from Japan’s pressure to save face.

“‘It’s so taboo,’ Mauger said. ‘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.’”

It said:

Johatsu cases seem to have emerged in the late 1960s, bolstered by a 1967 film called A Man Vanishes, in which a man abruptly leaves behind his job and fiancée to disappear. In the 1970s, more cases emerged of young, rural-bred workers escaping harsh jobs in big cities, says Hikaru Yamagishi, who studies political science at Yale.

“One man that Mauger and Remael met said it was his job to move these johatsu to faraway towns and cities during the 1990s. He and others like him called themselves a ‘night movers’. It was their job to shuttle people to new, undisclosed locations under the cover of darkness. According to PRI, the 1990s were a booming time for such night moves. The economy had just crashed, and many people were looking for a way out.

“‘It’s a crazy thing, but disappearance became a business at that time,’ Mauger told PRI.

“In their book, Mauger and Remael also shed light on the loved ones who get left behind. Often, the families of johatsu said they wish the missing person had not felt so ashamed.

“‘We simply want to hear from him, he doesn’t have to come home. If he needs money, we’ll send it to him,’ a parent of a johatsu told Mauger and Remael.”

The report said:

“The Japanese pressure to save face manifests itself in other ways, too.

“For instance, Japanese has a word to describe suicides driven by overwork: karoshi. Last October, a report found that more than 20% of people in a survey of 10,000 said they worked at least 80 hours of overtime a month. Half of all respondents said they give up taking paid vacations.

“In recent months, the Japanese government has taken small steps to reduce cases of karoshi, such as encouraging companies to let their staff work shorter hours on Friday. According to experts, however, the culture of work is so strong that many feel the incentives still don’t outweigh the downsides of dropping out.

“That is, unless they go the way of johatsu and walk away for good.”

A Time report said:

“Japan’s National Police Agency registered around 82,000 missing persons in 2015 and noted that some 80,000 had been found by the end of the year. Only 23,000 of them had remained missing for more than a week and about 4,100 of them turned out to be dead. In Britain, which has about half the population of Japan, more than 300,000 calls were made to police in 2015 to report a missing person.”

The report headlined “Do Stressed-Out Japanese Really Stage Elaborate Disappearances? On the Trail of the Johatsu or ‘Evaporated People’” said:

“The Missing Persons Search Support Association of Japan (MPS), a non-profit set up to provide support to the families of the evaporated, argues that official numbers reflect under-reporting and are way too low. ‘The actual, unregistered number is estimated at several times 100,000,” claims the organization’s website.’”

The May 2, 2017 dated report by Joseph Hincks from Tokyo said:

“The discipline and teamwork that were a plus during Japan’s boom years have ossified over the course of two decades of economic stagnation. Vacation time has become shorter, working hours longer, and company demands on the individual more exacting.”

The report said:

“In such a culture—where quitting a company is considered shameful—disappearing is an attractive alternative, says Jake Adelstein, a veteran Japan-based journalist: ‘Faced with a choice of suicide, working to death, or simply vanishing and starting life over, vanishing would seem a better option,’ he tells TIME, ‘Better missing than dead.’”

“Parasite singles”

“Their youth long gone, members of Japan’s generation of ‘parasite singles’ face a precarious future, wondering how to survive once the parents many depended on for years pass away” said a Reuters report.

The report headlined “‘Parasite singles’ could be making Japan’s sex problem even worse” said:

“Some 4.5 million Japanese aged between 35 and 54 were living with their parents in 2016, according to a researcher at the Statistical Research and Training Institute on a demographic phenomenon that emerged two decades ago, when youthful singles made headlines for mooching off parents to lead carefree lives.

“Now, without pensions or savings of their own, these middle-aged stay-at-homes threaten to place an extra burden on a social welfare system that is already creaking under pressure from Japan’s aging population and shrinking workforce.”

The report by Linda Sieg and Ami Miyazaki said:

“Hiromi Tanaka once sang backup for pop groups, and epitomized the optimism of youth.

“‘I got used to living in an unstable situation and figured somehow it would work out,’ Tanaka told Reuters as she sat at the piano in a small parlor of an old house connected to her elderly mother’s next door.

“Now aged 54, Tanaka relies on income from giving private singing lessons to a dwindling number of students, and her mother’s pension to make ends meet. She has no pension plan of her own, and has used up most of her savings.

“‘My father died last year so pension income was halved,’ she said. ‘If things go on like this, my mother and I will fall together.’

“Tanaka is one of the growing ranks of ‘life-time singles’, whose numbers hit a record in 2015, according to data released this month that showed that among 50-year-olds, one-in-four men and one-in-seven women were unmarried.”

The April 19, 2017 datelined report said:

“‘During the “bubble economy” until the mid-1990s, the 20-somethings were happily amusing themselves. They thought by the time they were in their 30s, they’d be married,’ said Masahiro Yamada, a Chuo University sociologist who coined the term ‘parasite singles’ in 1997.

“‘But one-third never married and are now around age 50,’ Yamada told Reuters in an interview.”

It said:

“The trend is not only a factor behind Japan’s low birth rate and shrinking population. It also puts an extra damper on consumption since new household formation is a key driver of private spending.

“And since about 20 percent of the middle-aged stay-at-home singles rely on parents for support, they also threaten to weigh on social safety nets.

“‘Once they use up inherited assets and savings, when nothing is left, they will go on the dole,’ Yamada said.”

The report said:

“The rise in those shunning marriage, experts say, is due not only to more diverse life-styles but to an increase in low-paying, unstable jobs. Part-timers, temps or contract workers now account for nearly 40 percent of the workforce compared to about 20 percent in the 1980s.

“Although recent tightness in Japan’s labor market has meant a slight fall in the number of singles living off parents, the overall trend probably won’t change, said Katsuhiko Fujimori, an economist at Mizuho Information and Research Institute.

“‘That’s because of the increase in irregular workers and the fact that more and more people cannot marry for economic reasons, even if they want to,’ he said.

“Some middle-aged singles living with parents once had steady jobs but slipped off the career track due to illness or corporate restructuring as companies cut costs to compete.”

The Reuters report said:

“‘Once you fall off the regular employment ladder, it’s tough,’ said Hirotoshi Moriyama, a member of a non-profit organization that tries to help middle-aged people find jobs.”

The report mentioned Akihiro Karube, 53, who worked in the advertising business after graduation and by his 30s was earning a hefty salary. Akihiro Karube moved back with his parents after a short-lived marriage but paid his own rent until, aged 43. Akihiro Karube was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and had to quit.

Efforts to find work as a qualified home helper for the elderly have failed and he says he now relies on his father’s pension and a disability pension of his own.

Karube, who lives with his widowed 84-year-old dad in public housing in a Tokyo suburb said: “I just wish I had a stable income, that’s the main thing.”

The report said:

“The future looks especially bleak for an extreme sub-set of people who not only live at home with their parents but also seldom venture out, living out their days in hermit-like seclusion. Known in Japan as ‘hikikomori’, and once stereotyped as mostly young men, these stay-at-homes are also aging.

“Fuminobu Ohashi was one himself, but now he works with a support group that last year began holding workshops for parents worried about their offsprings’ future.

“‘The problem is what they will do after their parents pass away,’ Ohashi said. ‘It is a quietly ticking time-bomb.’”

Earlier, a Mail online report on July 8, 2015 said:

One million Japanese people are thought to suffer from Hikikiomori;

Sufferers lock themselves in their bedroom, surf the internet, read and watch television, often cutting off all social contact with the outside world;

Condition is painful for families and is affecting the Japanese economy.


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