Monday, December 19, 2016

Japan's Evaporated People

Of the many oddities that are culturally specific to Japan — from cat cafés to graveyard eviction notices to the infamous Suicide Forest, where an estimated 100 people per year take their own lives — perhaps none is as little known, and curious, as “the evaporated people.”

Since the mid-1990s, it’s estimated that at least 100,000 Japanese men and women vanish annually. They are the architects of their own disappearances, banishing themselves over indignities large and small: divorce, debt, job loss, failing an exam. . . .
Some of the evaporated live in squalor in semi-secret slums:
These lost souls, it turns out, live in lost cities of their own making.

The city of Sanya isn’t located on any map. Technically, it doesn’t even exist. It’s a slum within Tokyo, one whose name has been erased by authorities. What work can be found here is run by the yakuza — the Japanese mafia — or employers looking for cheap, off-the-books labor. The evaporated live in tiny, squalid hotel rooms, often without internet or private toilets.
But for many Japanese, it seems, squalor is better than facing the shame of failure in their old lives.

There are experts to help you evaporate:
A shadow economy has emerged to service those who want never to be found — who want to make their disappearances look like abductions, their homes look like they’ve been robbed, no paper trail or financial transactions to track them down.

Nighttime Movers was one such company, started by a man named Shou Hatori. He’d run a legitimate moving service until one night, in a karaoke bar, a woman asked if Hatori could arrange for her to “disappear, along with her furniture. She said she could not stand her husband’s debts, which were ruining her life.”

Hatori charged $3,400 per midnight move. His clientele was vast: from housewives who’d shopped their families into debt to women whose husbands had left them to university students who were sick of doing chores in their dorms.

He refused to give specifics to the authors, but he eventually quit; as a child, Hatori himself had disappeared with his parents from Kyoto, after they found themselves in debt. He believes that his former line of work was a kindness. “People often associate [this] with cowardice,” he says. “But while doing this work, I came to understand it as a beneficial move.”
This article mentions families who hire private detectives in usually vain attempts to track down their vanished relatives, but not official action. I wonder if banks ever try to track down the worse debtors, or if they consider evaporating the equivalent of bankruptcy? Do the police track criminals who try to do this?

And isn't the world weird?

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

"I wonder if banks ever try to track down the worse debtors, or if they consider evaporating the equivalent of bankruptcy? Do the police track criminals who try to do this?"

Banks only put as much effort into collections as makes economic sense. They'll keep trying to get in contact for a bit, but depending on the amount owed, it probably isn't worth it to do more than the bare minimum to collect.

Once that point is reached, the sell the debt to people who actually specialize in collections, and then it's their problem. And the more obstinate collections companies are actually pretty scary and sleazy, particularly in Japan, particularly in the poor neighborhoods of the big cities. If you owe enough money, the people who come to track you down are going to be downright nasty.

Tracking down criminals works much the same way. Little fish aren't worth the time it takes to find them in general, and big fish aren't the sort to end up disappearing. You're therefor left with medium sized marks, and it becomes a sort of tossup as to whether the resources are worth spending to track them down.

All of this is of course complicated by the realities of the yakuza, and their unofficial working relationship with the police. If you flee from debts, chances are good that any people who come to collect on it are yakuza, which is a big part of what makes them so terrifying (and good at collecting). And if you're a criminal fleeing the law, if you're not aligned with (or are on bad terms with) the yakuza, they're probably going to sell any information they have on your whereabouts to the police in exchange for favors, such as ensuring their own membership get overlooked when they try to disappear.