TOKIO - In Japan, when people disappear overnight because of social pressure, financial, domestic or mental problems, they call it jōhatsu. Literally, it means evaporation. The phenomenon is not recognized in Japan, and so it stays under the radar. Robbe Van der Vloet and Arend Bucher travel to Japan in search of jōhatsu.

Jōhatsu is mondai in Japan, which means as much as a problem. Photographer Kanagawa Shingo encountered that problem during his childhood. "When I was in elementary school, my father would regularly disappear and then he would come back after a while," he said. Because of his experience, Kanagawa decided to create a photo project around jōhatsu to take it out of the taboo.  Koyama Goro was once jōhatsu himself. He disappeared for a while during his college days. Now he is a private investigator, specializing in tracking down jōhatsu. "When I try to imagine how the disappeared person in question would think, I reach back to how I thought when I was young," he says. And so Koyama tries to reunite jōhatsu with their families.

Some jōhatsu never return. They see no way out. "Disappearance, or jōhatsu, I think is exactly the same as suicide," says Yukio Shige. "Because people who think about suicide are also trying to escape." Yukio Shige does suicide prevention. He patrols the cliffs of Tōjinbō every day. There, he tries to detect and help people with dark thoughts.

Robbe Van der Vloet

Robbe Van der Vloet is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker from Leuven.

Arend Bucher

Arend Bucher is a Japanologist by training with an extensive interest in cultural history.
€6.120 allocated on 22/04/2022.


  • Mondai: Jōhatsu, Vranckx & De Nomaden, Canvas, 11/11/2023.