It all started in a bar in Paris, back in 2008, when a friend told Lena Mauger a story. It was about a Japanese couple who had disappeared. They hadn’t died. They weren’t kidnapped. They just deliberately vanished in the middle of the night without explanation.

And this wasn’t just a one-off, mysterious occurrence. According to Mauger’s friend, it was a phenomenon. In Japan, thousands of people each year became johatsu — “evaporated people” — driven underground by the stigma of debt, job loss, divorce, even just failing an exam.

For PRI’s The World [a co-production of the BBC]

[For a complete archive of my stories for PRI’s The World, click here.]