Inside a slum that's become the Bermuda Triangle of Japan, where people go to disappear
Every year, tens of thousands of people in Japan go missing on purpose to get a second shot at life.
The South China Morning Post spoke to two men who have disappeared from their old lives.
"I was sick of the world. But I didn't have the courage to die," one of the men, Kodama, told the SCMP.
A slum in the Japanese port city of Osaka has a mysterious reputation — it's where people go when they don't want to be found.
The Kamagasaki slum is filled with "jouhatsu-sha," or "evaporated people," who upped and left their lives in other parts of Japan, a South China Morning Post documentary released on March 19 revealed.
Many of the slum's residents are people who have wandered there and resettled from other places, the SCMP reported. These people have chosen to literally vanish from their lives elsewhere, cutting themselves off from family and friends to start anew.
In 2021, around 80,000 people were reported missing in Japan, per Statista. Many of them chose to disappear because of debt, to escape their obligations and responsibilities, or just to press the reset button on their lives, per the SCMP.
One such "evaporated" person is Masashi Tanaka, 49, who said he chose to disappear after being abused by his mother. On the day the documentary was filmed, he had just been released from prison after serving time for drug charges.
He said that after he went to prison the first time, his mother told him: "You're already dead to me. Don't write to me again." Tanaka chose to go to Kamagasaki after that, where he lives alone.
Kamagasaki, also known as Airin Chiku, is an area in Osaka where people can get cheap accommodation and low-income jobs as day laborers. Hotels can be found at rates as low as $15 per night, and people stand at the side of the street hoping to get hired for odd jobs, per the SCMP.
The slum is Japan's largest "yoseba," a place where prospective employers can find day laborers, per human rights group Hurights Osaka. A 2008 investigation by The Guardian estimated that there were around 25,000 people living in the slum. Tokyo, too, is home to a similar slum — Sanya, where many day laborers live and hang around on the streets, waiting for work.
Many people living in the Kamagasaki slum have changed their names to maintain their anonymity, per the SCMP.
And it is easy to maintain anonymity and hide in plain sight in Japan, per a report by the BBC in 2020. Sociologist Hiroki Nakamori told the BBC that because privacy is highly valued in Japan, missing people can withdraw money from ATMs without detection.
"Police will not intervene unless there's another reason, like a crime or an accident. All the family can do is pay a lot for a private detective. Or just wait. That's all," Nakamori told the BBC.
A man named Kodama, 64, told the SCMP that he ran away from home at the age of 27 with "very little money," just enough for a train ticket.
He had been laid off from his job, and traveled to Osaka where he was told that he would be able to find work. Kodama said he has not seen his family in over 35 years.
"If I went back, it would be awkward for everyone. So I'm going to leave and live on my own," Kodama told the SCMP.
He added: "I was sick of the world. But I didn't have the courage to die."
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