At a bar in Paris in 2008, Lena Mauger was told by you a rather strange story. It is about those Japanese disappear. They did not die nor were they kidnapped. They simply disappeared intentionally at night, leaving no explanation.
This is not an isolated case either. It is called by name johatsu, meaning “evaporating people”. Every year in Japan, there are tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of such johatsu. They choose to live secluded, away from society for a variety of reasons, including debt, unemployment, divorce or even failing exams.
Mauger – originally a French journalist – began to feel both curious and confused. “To disappear in a modern society like Japan, with all the technical platforms that can track identities and complex social ties, I think this is a very astonishing affair. “ – she expressed.
The name johatsu originated from the film Ningin Johatsu (A Man Who Disappears) directed by Shohei Imamura, released in 1967.
Obsessed with the story, Mauger and her husband – photographer Stephane Remael – decided to go to Japan to find out. Finally they spent up to 5 years in the country of Funeral with many surprising findings. However, when they first arrived in Tokyo, their mission was almost impossible.
“I thought, ‘Oh my, how can I find silhouettes quietly in such a bustling megacity?” – Mauger said. “And in Japan, the subject of johatsu is as taboo as committing suicide. When we mentioned johatsu, everyone around us suddenly became busy and quickly dispersed. “
But there are still some clues. One of them is Shou Hatori – who spent many years “evaporating” the johatsu at night. Hatori even rewrites a book about his work.
Driver Shou Hatori transporting the johatsu disappeared at night (Image: Stéphane Remael)
Originally, he was the driver of the “main road” during the day, but the other night, Hatori met a woman. She begged to help her disappear without leaving any trace. And that was the milestone that made Hatori start arranging night rides.
By the 1990s, the magic of Japan was no more; Instead, a series of articles about salaried workers were forced to commit suicide. This is also the time when the cars going into the darkness and avoiding society start to increase. “It sounds crazy, but making someone disappear is really a business at the time.” – Mauger said.
So, where did Hatori’s “services” take people to disappear? He points out “administrative gaps” – the last refuge for those who want to cut off normal relationships. “People who disappear can continue to live anonymously in areas like Sanya (Tokyo) or Kamagasaki (Osaka). This is a place to live without identification.”
In fact, these areas were once the area of many gangs of yakuza gangsters – the places that provide “pay for porridge money”, no matter what name. However, most of the work is not illegal, such as construction workers, porters, day laborers …
On the margins of society, the johatsu have a temporary daily life with minimal living conditions (Image: Stéphane Remael)
After having some initial ideas about johatsu, the Mauger journalist and husband started to get involved. They gain the trust of a “night-traveling” driver, then witness firsthand how someone becomes a johatsu, evaporating right in front of their eyes.
The most amazing and heartbreaking thing is the identity of every johatsu! A mother abandons her son because of feelings for another man, a student chooses to disappear from her parents because of a failing test, a gambling addict threw herself into the street illegally because she could not continue to look wife’s face … In some ways, the people of the old days are already dead!
Above all, what makes people want to disappear is the sense of despair of shame. “At first, they said: It was just an exam … But in the end, they still could not tell their parents: I have failed already.”
Some images were recorded by Stéphane Remael.
In fact, everywhere in the world there are people fleeing and not being found. But in Japan, privacy policies make johatsu a common phenomenon.
Private detective Goro Koyama shares: “If a person does not register their identity, the authorities will not know where they are either.” Koyama himself tried to search for a few johatsu but was unable to do so due to information security regulations. In Japan, even police can only access personal information when a criminal case occurs. Meanwhile, most johatsu cases belong to civil matters.
On the other hand, relatives who want to find jokatsu through ATM card transactions are also impossible. “By law, a wife is not allowed to access her husband’s banking information and vice versa” – Koyama said.
(Image: Stéphane Remael)
However, Mauger’s five years of investigation were not wasted. She managed to find the two johatsu that she had heard of in a Paris bar.
It was a couple who decided to “evaporate” in the 1980s. Right before, they borrowed a large debt to open a dumpling shop, but the recession came unexpectedly. No other way, the couple had to sell all the properties, and call a night car ride … Now, the husband works as a bricklayer, the wife works at the post office. They have 3 sons but only one knows the family’s origin.
Mikio is one of the rare johatsu agrees for photography. He said: “By now, I am not afraid of anything else” (Image: Stéphane Remael)
Journalist Mauger and her husband spent five years listening to stories, capturing images of johatsu. Finally, they conclude that: “We all wish that someday when we are fed up with life, tired of our work, we will say: ‘Why don’t we disappear?’ But you won’t think like that when faced with cruel truth, that the lives of those who disappear are also not easy at all. “
This is the first time a dumpling shop owner – now living as a johatsu – has revealed his story to a stranger and even agreed to take photos.
In 2016, eight years after learning about johatsu, Mauger and his wife published a book titled “The Vanished: The” Evaporated People “of Japan” (roughly translated: “Disappeared: People who evaporate in Japan).
But perhaps up to now, most Japanese still do not know or care about the reclusive identities that Mauger’s husband and wife have been exposed to. Johatsu – they are forever hidden in the most gloomy corners among the brilliant megacities of the land of the rising sun!
(According to PRI)