Johatsu
February 6, 2019 11:55 PM   Subscribe

It all started in a bar in Paris, back in 2008, when a friend told Lena Mauger a story. It was about a Japanese couple who had disappeared. They hadn’t died. They weren’t kidnapped. They just deliberately vanished in the middle of the night without explanation.

And this wasn’t just a one-off, mysterious occurrence. According to Mauger’s friend, it was a phenomenon. In Japan, thousands of people each year became johatsu — “evaporated people” — driven underground by the stigma of debt, job loss, divorce, even just failing an exam.

Or maybe not...

Do Stressed-Out Japanese Really Stage Elaborate Disappearances? On the Trail of the Johatsu or 'Evaporated People'

There's a FanFare post about the movie mentioned "A Man Vanishes"
posted by bongo_x (39 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've only read the Time article so far, but it keeps raising my hackles. So many outlier numbers thrown out with "one expert believes that the number could be X," descriptions that fit the Japan of a decade ago more than now, etc. There's a lot of accurate information, but also a lot of sprinkled in "spice."
posted by Bugbread at 12:46 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


On to the second article (sorry, I know you didn't post this for Bugbread's Article Reviews), the exoticism is stronger but there's less "No, come on, that's just wrong" stuff.

I think the main thing that jumps out at me is the implication, for example, that the kid disappearing because he failed an exam is representative of Japanese society. No, that's someone in a fucked up, dysfunctional family. If you tell that story to other Japanese people, they will also say "That's fucked up." And people with debt that disappear in the middle of the night don't do so because of the stigma of debt, they do so because they're in debt to loan sharks and are in physical danger.

I do have one question, though. There was this quote: "For example, if a person doesn’t register their address with city hall, even the government does not know where they are, says Goro Koyama, a private detective in Japan." That seems common sense to me. How do governments in other countries figure out where people live unless those people tell them? It's not like everywhere is like China with facial recognition cameras.
posted by Bugbread at 12:57 AM on February 7 [15 favorites]


After a certain time of zero contact with your government (this normally means paying no taxes for 2 years or so) they will delist you. You will be marked as not deseaced but "other". This happens all the time, not because people choose to evaporate. Normally they just move abroad and forget to notify their government about it.
posted by uandt at 1:37 AM on February 7 [6 favorites]


And people with debt that disappear in the middle of the night don't do so because of the stigma of debt, they do so because they're in debt to loan sharks and are in physical danger

If it's loan sharks, the disappearing might not be voluntary. Even if it isn't loan sharks, the way legit debt collectors often work, I can see 'disappearing' being a tempting choice.
posted by Dysk at 3:42 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


Normally they just move abroad and forget to notify their government about it.

it honestly would never even have occurred to me to do this? why would i tell them where i'm going. i don't need permission. YOU'RE NOT MY REAL DAD.

anyway my mom forged my (income-less) tax returns for 10 years so she could keep claiming me as a dependent so the fraud was all hers not mine.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:31 AM on February 7 [12 favorites]


it honestly would never even have occurred to me to do this? why would i tell them where i'm going. i don't need permission. YOU'RE NOT MY REAL DAD.

The koseki/family register system in Japan may complicate this. The koseki acts as a birth/marriage/identity certificate all in one, and is used when Japanese passports are renewed (Japanese living overseas have their own koseki system, but it's still a piece of paper that's required).

Also consider that Japan severely restricts dual citizenship. For a Japanese living overseas, you can see why for practical purposes it's a good idea to at least keep in touch with the local embassy. It's not simple just to disappear abroad, at least for people who may want to retain their Japanese passports or return to Japan in future.
posted by plep at 4:47 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


It sounds like an AskMe question, but, how do I become an "American Johatsu?"
posted by Xurando at 5:21 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


It sounds like an AskMe question, but, how do I become an "American Johatsu?"

Get in your car, start driving, don't stop until you get to Vegas.

The impulse to disappear is pretty universal--I'm sure that if Mauger had started looking, she would have found a neighborhood in Paris with an unusual number of cash-only businesses and weekly housing.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:40 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


Get in your car, start driving, don't stop until you get to Vegas.

I think it is much harder to disappear than it used to be.
posted by thelonius at 5:48 AM on February 7 [9 favorites]


It sounds like an AskMe question, but, how do I become an "American Johatsu?"
Flitcraft had inherited seventy thousand dollars from his father, and, with his success in real estate, was worth something in the neighborhood of two hundred thousand dollars at the time he vanished. His affairs were in order, though there were enough loose ends to indicate that he had not been setting them in order preparatory to vanishing. A deal that would have brought him an attractive profit, for instance, was to have been concluded the day after the one on which he disappeared. There was nothing to suggest that he had more than fifty or sixty dollars in his immediate possession at the time of his going. His habits for months past could be accounted for too thoroughly to justify any suspicion of secret vices, or even of another woman in his life, though either was barely possible.

“He went like that,” Spade said, “like a fist when you open your hand.”
In many countries, probably the first thing to do is to establish another identity to live under after your disappearance. If you can fake your own death to tie up loose ends, so much the better. Staying in touch with anyone from your previous life, as with witness protection, seems to be a bad idea.

At the end of this rather interesting article about Steve Fossett’s disappearance in an apparent plane crash, there’s a list of others who unsuccessfully or otherwise (?) seemed to disappear. At least a couple of people have taken advantage of surviving major disasters (rail crashes, 9/11) and disappeared on a whim, without sufficient preparation, and mostly got caught.

In that article, while describing Paul Early’s disappearance, the line “apparently inspired by Frederick Forsyth's novel The Day of the Jackal” refers to the practice of finding the grave of somebody with a similar birth year to yourself who died in infancy, then sending off for their documents and using the copy of their birth certificate to establish an identity under their name. The Met Police in London called this a “Jackal Run” when they did this to adopt new identities and infiltrate leftwing groups and environmental activists. Andrew O’Hagen did the same thing a couple of years ago for the LRB, in an excellent article which has now partly gone behind their paywall again.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 6:28 AM on February 7 [7 favorites]


I still have a copy of a book from AK Press called How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found. It's mostly a relic now, as changing standards of US paperwork have made most of its techniques unworkable. But up until the end of the twentieth century, the weak link in Social Security number acquisition was the ability to substitute baptismal certificates for birth certificates. Whereas faking the latter required complicated forgery, the former required little more than basic computer skills. If you looked young enough to be plausibly under say, twenty years old, you could use that as your starting point.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:37 AM on February 7 [9 favorites]


I still have a copy of a book from AK Press called How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found.

Trivia: that book was the inspiration for the Radiohead song!
posted by chappell, ambrose at 6:53 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Perhaps you would like to hear the song Flitcraft from the excellent Mekons album Fear and Whiskey.
posted by Frowner at 6:59 AM on February 7 [8 favorites]


But where were they going without ever knowing the way?
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:26 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


I think the main thing that jumps out at me is the implication, for example, that the kid disappearing because he failed an exam is representative of Japanese society.

I think you’re going too far in discounting cultural differences.

A friend of mine worked for years as a psychological counselor at a community health center for the homeless camps in Osaka. I was visiting in 2004, just after an economic crash that had resulted a sea of blue tarps along the river front and through the larger parks. She explained that basic profile for someone living in a camp was this:
  1. Left his smaller home town to find work in Osaka
  2. Got job and supported family back home
  3. Lost job, housing, self-respect, and the respect of his family. In English, "lost face".
  4. Completely abandoned previous life, moved into a tent camp, began drinking heavily.
My friend did her nursing degree in her native Japan, did a psychology degree in the U.S. and has worked in community health centers in both countries. She’s also been an Anglophile most of her life. When she talks cultural differences, I listen. She tells me that the fear (justified or not) of having permanently lost the respect of their community can reasonably lead Japanese people to self-exile, and I believe her.

I think the main thing that jumps out at me is the implication, for example, that the kid disappearing because he failed an exam is representative of Japanese society. [...] If you tell that story to other Japanese people, they will also say "That's fucked up."

They certainly will. And then they’ll say "But this shit happens. Whattaya gonna do?" There’s nothing unique about that — there is plenty of cultural stuff in the U.S. that we all know sucks but we’re just kinda stuck with.

One last note: moving to a new town to get away from your past and start anew is a pretty well known behavior no matter what culture you’re in. People everywhere "lose face". For me the annoying otherism is treating the lower bar for disappearing as some exotic behavior instead of a point further out on a well established curve.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:29 AM on February 7 [10 favorites]


the weak link in Social Security number acquisition was the ability to substitute baptismal certificates for birth certificates. Whereas faking the latter required complicated forgery, the former required little more than basic computer skills.

This makes me think that I got a really cut-rate birth certificate, because you could absolutely knock one together at Kinkos. Actually you'd probably do better at a public library that still has a typewriter.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:49 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


It's all fun and games until someone gets a ragged old doll in the mail.
posted by praemunire at 7:59 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


The Jackal Run thing, stealing the ID of a dead child, I don't think that works since the 90's. There were a series of incidents in the papers sometime in the late 90s about "college kids" getting busted for having gotten drivers licenses by getting birth certificates from long dead children. It was pretty serious for the law breakers, who really just wanted to drink, the parents of the dead were very very upset. This was Washington State so maybe it isn't universal but These Days I would expect better matching of death records to new social security and drivers license applications.

I remember as a kid in the late 70's I thought I should lay in some false identities as insurance thinking that the younger I did it the better, never did it and now I kind of wonder what would happen if I had.
posted by Pembquist at 9:12 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


The Jackal Run thing, stealing the ID of a dead child, I don't think that works since the 90's.

I would imagine it depends on how well joined-up the various bits of government recordkeeping are in your jurisdiction. Certainly you’re living your life underneath a sword of Damocles, one government IT project away from being unmasked when a database query throws up an alert that technically you were dead before your passport was issued.

I’m pretty certain that it still works in the UK, if you have an appetite for risk (I would imagine that the consequences for being caught are severe). As well as the 2015 LRB article I linked in my last comment - which goes into detail on the ethics of stealing a dead child’s identity - I once met someone who had am alternative identity. They were an enthusiatic football hooligan and mostly used the false identity to gather fines for travelling without a ticket, running up credit card debt, etc. The last I heard of him, about a year ago, he still wasn’t in prison. Although I suppose he might have been an undercover cop the whole time?
posted by chappell, ambrose at 9:39 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I remember as a kid in the late 70's I thought I should lay in some false identities as insurance thinking that the younger I did it the better, never did it and now I kind of wonder what would happen if I had.

Just one more regret.
posted by bongo_x at 10:27 AM on February 7


> And people with debt that disappear in the middle of the night don't do so because of the stigma of debt, they do so because they're in debt to loan sharks and are in physical danger

I've always wanted to learn more about one of my wife's (late) aunts on the Chinese side of her family who, she told me, loaned money to people before she moved to Canada in the '60s.

Me: So she was a loan shark?
Wife: No, no, no...she just loaned money to people who couldn't get loans from banks for whatever reason.
Me: So she was a loan shark.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:18 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


So she was a loan shark.

Wouldn't the difference be whether or not the interest was usurious and violence used to enforce payment?

I mean, maybe she was just pretty good at loaning money to people who'd pay back.
posted by fatbird at 11:36 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


Get in your car, start driving, don't stop until you get to Vegas.

It's not quite that simple. Abandon your car in Vegas. Walk and hitchhike to Colorado. Live in a shack in the mountains. Write manifestos.

The manifestos are key; nothing guarantees being ignored like a manifesto.
posted by happyroach at 11:45 AM on February 7 [14 favorites]


There are a plenty of people living under the radar in cash and barter based lives. It takes some effort though.

And it won’t last forever. If they need hospital services at some point, they’ll likely pop back up.

In sci-fi people get new eyeballs and fingerprints and stuff and that’s my plan anyways. I recently had a small amount of Botox and figure it’s the gateway drug to second identities.
posted by sio42 at 12:27 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


Tell Me No Lies: "I think you’re going too far in discounting cultural differences....[My friend] tells me that the fear (justified or not) of having permanently lost the respect of their community can reasonably lead Japanese people to self-exile, and I believe her."

I may not have expressed myself well. The situations are definitely linked to cultural differences, they're just not representative of the culture. It's like...conversion therapy in the US. If you hear about some kid sent to a "Stop Being Gay" camp who ends out dying from dehydration after a day of forced marching in the mountains, is it linked to US culture? Absolutely. But I wouldn't say it's representative of US culture. It's an extreme situation, and culture defines center-points, and therefore defines where the extremes lie.

Writing about cultures your readers are unfamiliar with is difficult. If you write about conversion camps for a US audience, people already know what the general culture is like, so if you talk about an extreme case, it doesn't give off a sense of "this is what US culture is like," but instead, "this is what one fucked up pocket of US culture is like." If you write the exact same way about other cultures, the reader often lacks the background knowledge to distinguish between mainstream culture and extremes, so examples of far extremes sometimes come off as examples of things that are "not the norm, of course, but not that extreme, either."

Or maybe I'm just reading too much into things, I dunno.
posted by Bugbread at 3:34 PM on February 7 [6 favorites]


DirtyOldTown: "But up until the end of the twentieth century, the weak link in Social Security number acquisition was the ability to substitute baptismal certificates for birth certificates."

This may be a big factor in why disappearing has been somewhat easier in Japanese culture: there was no equivalent to the Social Security number (that is, no number used as a national identification number) until the Individual Number system was introduced in 2015.
posted by Bugbread at 3:37 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]


I mean, maybe she was just pretty good at loaning money to people who'd pay back.

And maybe the snake was really just an apple enthusiast?
posted by praemunire at 3:57 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


The situations are definitely linked to cultural differences, they're just not representative of the culture. It's like...conversion therapy in the US. If you hear about some kid sent to a "Stop Being Gay" camp who ends out dying from dehydration after a day of forced marching in the mountains, is it linked to US culture? Absolutely. But I wouldn't say it's representative of US culture. It's an extreme situation, and culture defines center-points, and therefore defines where the extremes lie.

Ah, I see what you’re saying.

For me it’s a hard distinction to make sometimes. Take school shootings for example. They happen everywhere in the world but their (relative) prevalence in the U.S. tells a very rich story of alienation, fanaticism, fear, and a casual attitude towards taking human life. I’m not saying that they fully represent the U.S. but rather that you can’t make a full representation of Americans without counting them in.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:13 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Agreed. That's why I say it's difficult - if you don't count it in, the image readers get may be skewed in one way (and it's not necessarily the writer or reader's fault, it's just something that naturally occurs due to lack of familiarity with the topic). If you do count it in, it may be skewed the other way (and, again, it might not be anyone's fault).
posted by Bugbread at 5:55 PM on February 8


Take school shootings for example. They happen everywhere in the world [citation needed]

(And I don't just mean "I bet there's at least one country that hasn't had a school shooting", I mean they're either staggeringly rare or have never occurred at all in the vast majority of non-USA countries.)
posted by russm at 2:51 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]


Between 2009 and 2018 there were school shootings in Brazil, Canada, France, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, South Africa, and Mexico.

I will stand by describing an event that happens in that wide variety of locations as something that happens everywhere in the world, although I can definitely see where reasonable people might disagree.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:41 AM on February 9


I mean, that’s 10 / 195 countries. It would be a stretch to describe 5% of all countries as “everywhere in the world”.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 6:54 AM on February 9


I will stand by describing an event that happens in that wide variety of locations as something that happens everywhere in the world

I see what you're saying, but I wouldn't characterize 10 countries as a "wide variety," either. A "handful" at best. I think a better way to have phrased it would be something like "Take school shootings for example. They aren't limited to the U.S., but their higher prevalence in the U.S. tells..."
posted by Bugbread at 3:17 PM on February 9


(first, let me avoid any misunderstandings by saying that I'm not particularly attached here. It's all fun)

That country list is for 2008-2018. If we go back to 2000 we pick up China, Russian, and Australia among others. With those three added we get aggregated totals of:
  • 3.1 Billion People (around 45 percent of the world population)
  • 20 million square miles (around 35 percent of the Earth's land area)
So if we stick to using countries as a base unit there is a heck of a lot more coverage than 13 / 195 would imply.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:31 PM on February 9


Firstly, could you link your dataset?

With those three added we get aggregated totals of:
3.1 Billion People (around 45 percent of the world population)
20 million square miles (around 35 percent of the Earth's land area)


Now do: how many people directly experienced a school shooting [based on average school size for the country... if you don’t have a number, then you can pick one flattering to your argument] / unit of population.

You can do it on a per country basis and for all the aggregate data on a global basis. Now do the same for the US and compare to the second highest country, and also to the global average. I haven’t seen the data that you’re working from, but i will bet you a lot of money that you’re going to be in for a surprise when you see how far ahead the US is compared to the global average; compared to the country with the second highest rate of school shootings / fatalities; and generally, compared to anything except your prefered metric of “is an enormous country + has experienced a school shooting somewhere in the last decade” which even so is getting you pretty pathetic results.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:14 PM on February 9


I will stand by describing an event that happens in that wide variety of locations as something that happens everywhere in the world, although I can definitely see where reasonable people might disagree.

Actually dude let’s make it simpler.

If an event has happened, at some random point, once and once only, during the past millennium on each of the world’s continents, and it’s also happened like 259 times in the last week in Pittsburgh, does it make sense to say “well it happens all over the world but it’s been happening more than usual in Pittsburgh”?

I mean, it’s correct, but I’d characterise that statement as obviously misleading and in bad faith. Before the exciting maths challenge in my previous question, maybe give me your take on this one, because it’ll help me to work out if you’re just being pedantic for the sake of it.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:25 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]


Wow well that's a derail I regret starting.
posted by russm at 11:22 PM on February 9


Wow well that's a derail I regret starting

Tell Me No Lies, russm, mods: for my part, I regret commenting on a fraught topic after drinking most of a(n excellent) bottle of whisky.

Sorry! If it’s any consolation, I’m suffering for it this morning.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 6:59 AM on February 10


If an event has happened, at some random point, once and once only, during the past millennium on each of the world’s continents, and it’s also happened like 259 times in the last week in Pittsburgh, does it make sense to say “well it happens all over the world but it’s been happening more than usual in Pittsburgh”?

I definitely agree with you there. However, the situation is nowhere as extreme as that. I commend to you this table from Wikipedia, where the U.S. definitely overrepresented but (IMHO) not so much as to discount what happens in other countries.

Firstly, could you link your dataset?

The original dataset was grabbed somewhat at random after a long search for a list of school massacres that didn't include militant takeovers, etc. This morning I looked a little harder and found this, which I think is superior.

if you’re just being pedantic for the sake of it.

No, I was reasonably called out on my characterization of these things happening "everywhere in the world". *I* know what I meant, but based on the feedback here I did not communicate it well.

And in the spirit of not turning this into a lot of statistics and a referendum on the use of the word "everywhere" let me say that I think Bugbread's restatement captures what I was trying to say very well. So, consider it restated.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:44 AM on February 10


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