Each year, some 100,000 Japanese opt to disappear, a phenomenon depicted here in a small collection of essays and photographs.
Mauger, a French journalist, and documentary photographer Remael (and various generally unhelpful and uneasy interpreters), traveled around Japan in an attempt to show this underbelly of Japanese life. The present work, first published in France in 2014, is an expansion of an earlier piece in the magazine XXI, where Mauger works. To be in debt or to fail at school, in business, or in one’s marriage is to lose face in Japan, and the shame of this drives thousands to become johatsu, Japanese for “evaporated people.” Most of the author’s subjects are men, but she tells one especially poignant story of a woman in an arranged marriage who abandoned her child to flee an impossible situation. To find out why the johatsu opted out and how they were surviving in their new, often grim, surroundings, Mauger talked to a number of them and to the family members they left behind. On what was definitely not a holiday tour, she visited inhumane Toyota City; the Tojinbo cliffs, a mecca for runaways famous for its record suicide rates; ghettos run by the Japanese Mafia; a reform camp for unsuccessful business executives; and the bleak region created by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. A few dozen color photographs bear witness to the loneliness and sadness of the “evaporated people” and the ugliness of their surroundings. There are no happy endings in Mauger’s report, no prodigal sons returning to open arms. Most of the stories are depressing and occasionally moving, and many are just brief sketches.
A cheerless little book in which a journalist calls attention to but does not probe deeply into one of the sorriest aspects of life in modern Japan.