Family and friends of Atsumi Yoshikubo are still coming to terms with her bizarre disappearance in what appears to be a well-planned suicide. The 45-year-old Yoshikubo checked into the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife in Canada's Northwest Territories on October 15. Just days later, she was seen walking out of town towards the nearby lake and hasn't been seen since.
Her disappearance sparked a massive search by the RCMP and hundreds of Yellowknife locals joined in as well. On November 4, the RCMP abruptly called off the search with a media statement that Ms. Yoshikubo had “arrived in Yellowknife with a plan to go into the wilderness and become a missing person.” A suicide note surfaced in Japan in the possession of one of Yoshikubo's friends although her brother has since disputed that she was planning suicide. He cites her purchase of a round-trip ticket as proof that she was planning to return to Japan. Still, her brother and other members of her family admit that they had not seen her in years and were not even aware that she had travelled to Canada.
Since Japan has its own share of "suicide magnets" such as Mount Mihara and Aokigahara Forest, why would a Japanese woman travel halfway around the world to end her life? “Sometimes people romanticize about how they might control their death, and they can become fixated on a place,” says Karen Letofsky, the executive director of the Toronto Distress Centres. “Maybe this woman came to Canada to create some distance from her family, and to spare them from it.”
Though the RCMP missing person file remains open, no further search is planned and locals remain pessimistic that her body will ever be found given the size of the wilderness surrounding Yellowknife. "Nobody knows what happened to her,” says David Radcliffe, one of the volunteer searchers in a statement to the National Post. “And there is a good chance nobody ever will. Can you imagine what this must be like for her family?”
In the meantime, family members of Atsumi Yoshikubo continue to wait for news. Her brother has told reporters that he is still hoping she will be found. “I'm sure that she'll come back alive. Definitely come back alive,” Kenji Yoshikubo said. Her also thanked the RCMP and people from Yellowknife who helped in the search for his sister.