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Mysterious Vanishings in Japan

People have long had a habit of just up and vanishing, sometimes with bizarre clues left behind or tantalizing insights, but rarely with any real answers. These cases are many, come to us from all over the world, and are all equally mysterious no matter where they may come from. The island nation of Japan too has its share of strange disappearances that often defy all efforts to solve them, and here are some of the more bizarre and unsettling.

On March 7, 1989, 4-year-old Shinya Matsuoka returned home from a walk with her parents, siblings, and cousin, and at the time all was well and everyone was in good spirits. Matuoka’s parents went in to bring her younger sister inside, and when they returned for Shinya the girl was nowhere to be seen. It was particularly odd since the girl had been there alone for only an estimated 40 seconds at most, and so it was thought she could not have possibly wandered far. The family fanned out calling her name, but there was no response and no sign at all of where the girl had gone. Police soon arrived and did not have much more luck, scouring the area and finding no evidence at all of where she had gone. It was as if she had just blinked out of existence.

In the coming days, a bizarre possible lead came in when Matsuoka’s parents received a call from an unidentified person cryptically saying that the kindergarten needed a monetary payment, but there was no such thing scheduled and the call was unable to actually be conclusively linked to either the kindergarten or the vanishing. The kindergarten itself claimed that no such call was made by them. Matsuoka has never been seen again, totally stepping off the face of the earth in those 40 seconds, and stirring up wide ranging debate as to what happened to her. Perhaps one of the more prominent theories is that she was kidnapped by North Korean spies, but it is still unexplained how they could have taken her so quickly practically right under her parents’ noses and without her calling out for help or leaving behind any trace whatsoever. The strange case remains unsolved.

If Matsuoka was taken by the North Koreans it would not be particularly unusual in and of itself, and indeed during the 70s and 80s there was a spate of many abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea, with some other mysterious vanishings also being blamed on this phenomenon. For instance on June 12, 1978 a 22-year-old single mother named Yaeoko Taguchi went to drop her children off at a daycare center as usual before heading to her job. She would never make it to work and when she did not arrive to pick her kids up after school she was declared missing. Despite a massive search for the young woman she was not found at the time, and her case became a well-publicized unsolved mystery.

For years there were no new leads and no incoming information on the Taguchi vanishing, and Taguchi’s children were taken in by relatives. At the time it was suspected that Taguchi may have been abducted by North Korean spies, but there was no solid evidence that this was the case. Then in 1987 a North Korean spy by the name of Kim Hyun Hui was arrested and accused of being a mastermind of the bombing of the South Korean airliner Korean Air Flight 858, which killed 115 people. Interestingly, Hui told authorities that she had been trained by a Japanese woman named Yaeko Taguchi on how to blend in with Japanese society. North Korea would later claim that Taguchi had died in a car accident in 1986, but they did not provide any evidence to back this up, and some other defectors said that the missing woman was alive as recently as 2000. It remains unclear just what happened to Taguchi or what her ultimate fate was.

Yaeko Taguchi

There was also the strange disappearance of 52-year-old Yutaka Kume, in 1977. Kume, who worked as a security guard at a city hall in Mitaka, was last seen on a beach in Ishikawa Prefecture on September 19, 1977, and it was strongly believed he had been snatched by the North Koreans, possibly taken away on a boat, or that he had even willingly defected. However, this has never been confirmed, he has not been seen since, and there has been no new information on what happened to Kume. He seems to have just vanished into thin air.

One very weird disappearance in Japan likely has nothing to do with North Korean abductions and rather has some spooky paranormal elements to it. In 1996, two high school girls went to explore an abandoned and supposedly haunted hotel and hot spring called Tsubono Spa. The pair were seen along their drive to the area, and they regularly updated their friends and family on where they were, but then they just were gone. When all correspondence stopped and they did not return a search was launched but trace of the missing youths or even their car, a black Subaru Vivio, could be found. Police were convinced at the time that the pair had somehow lost control of their vehicle and driven off the road to fall into a ravine or river, but intensive searches of such places along their route also turned up nothing. The case has been discussed a lot in Japanese outlets and featured on the True Crime Japan Podcast, and there have been numerous people in Japan who have gone to snoop around the haunted hotel themselves to try and find out what happened to them, but the so-called “Psychic Spot Disappearance” does not seem to be very well known in English publications, although there is an English language Reddit thread on the vanishing here.

The abandoned Tsubono Spa

Another mysterious vanishing occurred in June of 2001, and concerns the disappearance of an entire family. The whole odd story begins on June 4, 2001, when 52-year-old Junko Yamagami failed to show up for a business meeting and subsequently missed a flight to China for a business trip later that same day. Co-workers went to Yamagami’s home, where she lived with her husband and mother-in-law, but no one was there and the car was not in the driveway. Indeed, even the family dog, Leo, was nowhere to be seen.

When police arrived it was found that the house itself seemed to be normal, but while the back door had been left unlocked there appeared to be no sign of any forced entry. In the house a light had been left on in the kitchen but nothing seemed noticeably out of place, with the beds all neatly made and no sign of anything really amiss or any trace of a struggle. Yamagami’s luggage, along with her passport and 150,000 yen in cash were still there waiting for a business trip she would never take, and the only thing that seemed to be missing from the house were some sandals and pajamas, which was a little odd considering that all of their shoes and other clothing were apparently left behind. It appeared as if they had just gone out in their sandals and sleepwear and never come back. Since Yamagami’s 26-year-old daughter had been scheduled to go there for dinner the previous evening they tried to contact her but could not find her either, and she too seemed to have vanished without a trace.

Since the family had no known enemies, no criminal ties, and seemed to be for all appearances normal, happy and well-adjusted people, it was an utter enigma as to why they should all just simultaneously evaporate off the face of the earth and there were absolutely no leads as to where they could have gone. The only thing that could be determined for sure was that the car had been there the previously evening but was gone when the mailman came by the house at 4:30 AM. No one had any idea of where they all went or why, and the case became ice cold.

The missing Yamagami family

It would not be until 2007 that the case would finally be solved when a car was discovered at the bottom of a lake and was found to contain the remains of all four of the missing people, as well as their dog, all securely strapped into their seatbelts. The bodies were examined but the cause of death could not be determined, although it was assumed to be drowning. The clothes seemed to be likely pajamas, although they were quite damaged from the elements and it was uncertain, and there were no signs of struggle within the vehicle nor any outward physical injuries. While this shocking discovery shed light on what had ultimately happened to the family, it is still unknown just why they had all gone out in the car in their pajamas in the middle of the night without telling anyone and where there final destination had been.

Authorities have floated the theory that it could have been a group suicide, but there is little evidence that the family had any serious issues that would have led them down that dark path. Another idea is that the husband, Masahiro Yamagami, may have intentionally planned to kill his whole family by luring them out in the car and then driving it into the lake, but again there is no evidence to really support this. Another idea is that they were perhaps on the run from somebody, but from who? No one has the slightest idea. The case of the mysterious vanishing and deaths of the Yamagami family has never been solved.

Perhaps one of the most high-profile and baffling vanishings in recent memory in Japan is the puzzling case of 5-year-old Yuki Onishi. April 29, 2005, was a national holiday in Japan, Greenery Day, and little Yuki was out with her mother and younger sister picking bamboo shoots in Kanagawa Prefecture’s Goshikidai Forest. The day was clear and sunny, and there were many other people out in the area on this lovely day, many of them also gathering bamboo shoots. At about 1:30 PM, Yuki found her first bamboo shoot and gave it to her mother to keep while she excitedly went off to get more near a group of other diggers. This would be the last time anyone ever saw her again.

Yuki Onishi

After around 20 minutes had passed Yuki’s mother went to get her daughter but the girl was nowhere to be seen. Other people in the area remembered seeing her looking for bamboo shoots but no one could really recall when she had last been seen or if she had wandered off into the forest or not. The mother and some other people went off to look for the girl, but no trace was found and calling out her name received no responses. The police were soon notified, but even they were unable to figure out where Yuki had gone, prompting them to bring in police tracker dogs to try and find her, and this is where things get a bit weird. Every single one of the five dogs followed the girl’s scent to stop in their tracks at the exact same spot in the forest, after which the trail seemed to just stop, as if Yuki had just faded away into nothingness right there.

The search would expand to include over 3,000 law enforcement personnel and volunteers meticulously scouring every inch of the area for miles around, but not so much as a footprint or scrap of clothing could be found anywhere. Even a nearby pond was dredged up in case she had fallen in, but there was no body there. The only possible lead that could be gained were some people who claimed they had seen an unidentified man walking around the area with a dark sack perhaps big enough to stuff a young girl into, but without a detailed description this could have been anyone, and since many people were out collecting bamboo shoots the sack could have been for that purpose, making the tip ultimately useless. Despite numerous pleas to the public for more information and flyers liberally posted about, Yuki Onishi has never been seen again, and it has gone on to be one of the most enigmatic and well-known mysterious disappearances Japan has ever had. Where did she get off to in such a short span of time and in full view of so many witnesses? Why was there never no sign of her and most weirdly of all, why did those tracker dogs all converge on that one spot and then stop? No one knows.

It is unclear if any of these mysteries will ever be solved, and these just add to the pile of cold cases and baffling vanishings that seem to occur in every corner of the world. As safe as Japan may be viewed by many, it is not above such strange mysteries, and people have managed to step off the face of the earth here as well. What became of these people and is there any way for us to ever peer into these enigmas? For now they remain more curious accounts of people who have seemingly ceased to exist.