The Companies That Help People Vanish

All over the world — from the U.S. to Germany to the UK — people decide to disappear from their own lives without a trace, leaving their homes, jobs and families in the middle of the night to start a new life, often without looking back. In Japan, these people are referred to as “jouhatsu” — the Japanese word for “evaporation.” From inescapable debt to loveless marriages, the motivations that push jouhatsu to “evaporate” can vary. Regardless of their reasons, they turn to companies that help them through the process. These operations are called “night moving” services, a nod to the secretive nature of becoming a jouhatsu. They help people who want to disappear discreetly remove themselves from their lives, and can provide lodging for them in secret whereabouts. In Japan, it’s easier to evaporate because privacy is fiercely protected. Missing people can freely withdraw money from ATMs without being flagged, and their family members can’t access security videos that might have captured their loved one on the run. Police won’t intervene unless there’s a reason to, such as crime or an accident. All the family can do is hire a private detective and wait. For the jouhatsu themselves, feelings of sadness and regret stick with many of them long after they leave their lives behind.