Johatsu - an Actual Way to Disappear

There are those frustrating moments in your life when you wish to just disappear and leave everything behind. Imagine being able to vanish into thin air; disappearing on your own will; leaving all your current problems behind, and going far away so that you cannot be taken back. This is quite possible in Japan, the land of cultures such as anime, suicide forest and Johatsu. Thousands of people disappear off the face of the earth every year over there. Is disappearing really as enchanting as it seems? Let’s find out.
What does it mean?
Johatsu or evaporated people are those people who choose to disappear or orchestrate their disappearances, vanishing from the society without a trace and in most cases never found again. They “evaporate” without even saying goodbye to their loved ones and leave them in a state of eternal misery as they are left questioning if they are alive or dead. The “evaporated people” go where nobody recognizes them and live like ghosts. Over 100,000 people vanish over a year which is a staggering number compared to the population of Japan- 127 million.
Why do they do it?
 Apparently, Japan has a culture where everyone is exposed to a magnanimous amount of societal pressure right from a tender age. Failing in school or work often leads to social exclusion. Men lock themselves in their bedrooms for months and years in isolation to be free from social pressure. If they get a job, they overwork to such an extent that it leads to death. In fact, the Japanese have a word for the same- Karoshi (death due to overwork). Domestic violence is also a major cause for women to take this path.1 out of 4 women in Japan suffer domestic violence. 
The police have lagged in the matter as well. Many of the women who choose to become Johatsu have already filed a complaint but received no practical solution. People drowning in gambling debts choose this path too and some choose it for unclear reasons. Committing suicide, on one hand, puts your family at financial risk due to the exorbitant amounts of cleanup charges and debts. In cases where the people feel that the only option they have is to commit suicide or to disappear they choose to disappear. They feel it is better to be missing than dead.
How is it possible?
You might wonder how people can just disappear without a trace when Japan is on the top of the table in the matters of technology and innovation. Privacy, online or otherwise is considered to be of utmost importance in today’s age. Whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden stake their lives to protect people’s privacy. Keeping that in mind Japan has taken huge strides to protect its citizens’ privacy. Yet, on the flipside, Johatsu cannot be tracked down because of Japan’s impenetrable privacy laws. Public records can be accessed by the police only in criminal cases unlike other countries and the Johatsu cases are civil most of the time.
If a wife wants to access her own husband’s debit card transactions and banking transactions, she is not allowed to do so due to the ironclad privacy laws. Even the government doesn’t know where a person is unless they register their address with the city hall. This makes it rather difficult for anyone to find the missing people.
How do they do it?
An entire market has been formed to facilitate this phenomenon. The businesses call themselves ‘night shifters’ or ‘night movers’. Some of the night shifters work exclusively to help out women suffering from domestic abuse. Timing is essential in such cases because it involves children as well and has to be done in a short amount of time when the man is not at home. Their services range from assisting their disappearances, moving their belongings in the middle of the night to creating fake phone numbers and addresses. 
The charges for these services are quite costly ranging from 450 dollars to 2600 dollars varying according to the number of possessions, the number of people and the amount of distance. Those who cannot afford these services choose to disappear on their own. Guidebooks titled “Perfect Vanishing: Reset your life” and “The Complete Manual of Disappearance” with the tag line “Abandon your sad, pathetic reality” surprisingly encourage people to take that step.
What happens after?
After people become Johatsu, they tend to go somewhere they aren’t recognized and take up menial jobs such as dishwashers. They have left their loved ones behind and often suffer from loneliness and lead arduous lives. In search of jobs, they go to the shady parts of the town where jobs are offered, no questions asked. Several people can’t bear the pain even after vanishing and end up taking their lives. 
The families they leave behind are grief struck and remain eternally confused; always looking out to search for the person they lost; being in a state of constant false hope that the Johatsu will return and every time the doorbell rings they wonder if it’s them this time. 
Since the police cannot do much in the cases of Johatsu, the families turn to private detectives and even then their efforts are fruitless. Organizations such as the “Missing Person Search Support Association of Japan” have come up that try to help find the missing but most of the cases lead to a dead end.
Even though the idea of disappearing seems magical, the reality of the same is contradictory and complicated. The life of the Johatsu is less than ordinary and treacherous. It seems creepy how someone you love can choose to disappear at any moment and you can do nothing about it. Yet, at the same time, this saves hundreds of women from domestic violence and torture. 
The concept of Johatsu and ironclad privacy laws have one similarity. Both of them have the capability to enrich lives as well as to ruin them; both consist of pros and cons which are equally intense. Such things lead you to wonder what is actually correct and where does your conscience lie.

- Sunidhi Shende

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