Johatsu – The Vanishing People in Japan

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There is a general perception in Western countries that we have more missing persons in Japan than in the rest of the world, thanks to the media coverage about Japan in the West. 

We wonder if this is true. We discuss this topic here. 

The Vanished: The “Evaporated People” of Japan in Stories and Photographs, written by a French journalist

Since the following book was published in September 2016, Japan has become widely known for the excessive number of people who have vanished. 

The Vanished: The “Evaporated People” of Japan in Stories and Photographs

Written by Léna Mauger (French Journalist)

The book states the following:

“Every year, nearly one hundred thousand Japanese vanish without a trace. Known as the johatsu, or the ‘evaporated,’ they are often driven by shame and hopelessness, leaving behind lost jobs, disappointed families, and mounting debts.”

Many Western journalists want to cover this topic based on the book “The Vanished.” They have contacted us for interviews about this matter, assuming we handle many missing-person cases. 

Police Statistics

According to a police announcement, there were around 85,000 missing person reports made in 2018.

A total of 84,753 missing person reports were filed. Of these, the police confirmed the whereabouts of 72,949 people. A total of 3,833 deaths were confirmed. 7,971 cases were others. Almost half—47 percent—of missing persons were found the same day. 79.9 percent of the whereabouts of those missing people. 79.8% were located within a week.

The number of so-called vanished people is about 25,000. Others include missing senior citizens with dementia and teenage runaways. 

Missing Persons in 2018, NPA (National Police Agency)

Locating Vanished People

From our perspective, we try to check the following items when we investigate johatsu (intentional missing persons) cases:

  • Cell phone positions (only police can do it)
  • Security camera (CCTV) footage (only police can do it)
  • Calling history of the subject’s cell phone
  • PCs history
  • Bank cash card statements
  • Credit card statements
  • IC card history of public transportation
  • Receipts
  • Inquiries to colleagues, acquaintances, friends, etc. 

However, most clues are not accessible to PIs, such as cell tower locations, cell phone histories, cash card and credit card histories, and security camera footage. Even for the police, locating a missing person is challenging if the person does not use a cell phone, cash card, or credit card. 

In many cases, we must decline those cases where the subject leaves no clues. 

Still, some PIs make money out of their best efforts without telling the client that the chances of success are slim. We shouldn’t take advantage of uninformed clients in this manner.

Due to the strict privacy laws and old-fashioned citizen documentation system in Japan, hiring PIs is not an effective tool for locating missing persons, especially if they intentionally vanished.

Missing Husbands

If a husband goes missing, for example, his wife may not have enough money to request a PI. If she has children, they will go on government welfare aid rather than finding him. The police won’t do anything, and hiring a PI will not guarantee success.

Some may have committed suicide, while others may work at a construction site or brothel. Some may even come home in a couple of months. People will therefore try to forget them because it’s hard to locate them.

Declaration of Disappearance

We often handle process service-related cases for Japanese courts. If someone goes missing in Japan, you may want to apply for legal remedy procedures, such as attaching of subjects’ bank accounts or appointing a legal proxy for the missing person instead of finding them. To apply for a legal procedure, we often investigate the last known address of the missing person and report what happened to the courts. Our goal is not to find the person but report what happened and convince the courts to believe it’s impossible to locate the person.

Typical Johatsu Cases

Males are more likely to vanish than females. The main reasons for vanishing are workplace-related problems, depression, debts, and eloping.

You will find a couple of women whose husbands went missing (johatsu) due to debts or depression by searching on Twitter with #夫 蒸発 husband missing. 

According to those tweets, the top concerns are how to divorce and re-establish a stable life without locating the husband. It would be easier to solve these problems if the missing person could be found without applying for legal remedies. However, without government authority, it’s tough to locate an intentionally missing person, with some exceptions. 

Parental Child Abduction

Japanese mothers are notorious for abducting their children. That happens quite a lot in Japan and is becoming a social issue. We often handle these kinds of cases. 

This is not called johatsu. It’s called parental child abduction. However, it derives from the same root as johatsu. The mothers would like to start their lives over by vanishing with their children from the fathers. They choose to run away from marriage problems instead of facing them and trying to solve them by working through them. 

The Perfect Missing Manual

There is a legendary book called the Perfect Missing Manual, which was published in 1994.

It shows all the knowledge and skills needed to vanish and start a new life from scratch.

However,  it’s a 28-year-old book, and most of its contents are outdated. 

Right after the collapse of the Bubble Economy in 1992 in Japan, there were more johatsu because there were more people in great debt due to their lavish lifestyles during the Bubble Economy.

More Missing People in Japan Than in Other Countries

There may be more vanishing people in Japan than in other countries. At the same time, society doesn’t care much about them, considering them losers. These losers can survive in the construction business or in brothels, nightclubs, or shady businesses without showing their IDs. 

Some may commit suicide in Aokigahara Jukai (Sea of Trees), where it’s almost impossible to find their bodies. Aokigahara ( ). Others may become homeless.

Businesses That Profit off Missing People

Some PIs or shady moving companies are take advantage of the situation and make money by locating missing people or helping them move in the middle of the night.

As we mentioned earlier, in some cases, hiring PIs doesn’t work at all. Moving companies assisting johatsu are not doing anything very special. They just do the moving during overnight hours so that no one notices the resident (the moving company’s customer) has moved out. 

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