A sharply dressed Japanese man with a 'self-defense briefcase' has made a living in 'night moving' — helping battered women disappear without a trace
Naoki Iwabuchi specializes in a peculiar business — helping battered women disappear without a trace.
He carries around a discreet "self-defense briefcase" that opens up into an armored plate.
"Night moving is sloppy and there's always trouble," Iwabuchi told the South China Morning Post.
In the small town of Chiba, just 32 miles from Tokyo, Naoki Iwabuchi works out of a nondescript office. Dressed in a sharp, black suit, he speaks in a low, measured voice, detailing matter-of-factly how he is in the business of "yonigeya" or "night moving" — which essentially involves helping people disappear.
In 2021, about 80,000 people were reported missing in Japan, per Statista. Of these "jouhatsu-sha," or "evaporated people," many of them chose to disappear because of debt, to escape domestic violence, or just to start over elsewhere, per a documentary by the South China Morning Post.
Iwabuchi's business is one of many that helps people, particularly abused women and victims of stalking, disappear from society and travel to a safe place, the SCMP revealed in a documentary released on March 19.
But it is a job full of risk and danger. He carries a discreet black "self-defense briefcase" with him at all times, which opens up into a shield with a layer of armor inside it. He also travels with a retractable baton-like device which he says he uses for protection.
"Night moving is sloppy and there's always trouble. I don't think a day goes by without trouble," Iwabuchi told the SCMP, adding that he always assumes "the worst" will happen.
He started his business 16 years ago after finding out that there was an increase in women facing domestic abuse who "just couldn't run away." He decided to step in and help them disappear, he told the SCMP.
Around 90% of Iwabuchi's clients are women, and 10% are men, Iwabuchi said, per the SCMP. And now, the number of people seeking to disappear is up to three times more than what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.
The Los Angeles Times reported in 2003 that "yonigeya" services can cost anywhere between $2,000 to $20,000 per job depending on the risk and complexity of the extraction. In some cases, people helping with the escape may need to pose as window washers or tatami mat tradesmen to slip under the radar.
Once they have "evaporated," it is easy for these people to maintain anonymity and hide in plain sight in Japan, per a 2020 BBC report.
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.
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