I was getting ready to welcome in the new year on Dec. 31 when a ニュース速報 (nyūsu sokuhō, breaking news) alert flashed across my phone: ゴーン被告が声明を発表「レバノンにいる」 (Gōn-hikoku ga seimei o happyō: “Rebanon ni iru,” Defendant [Carlos] Ghosn releases statement: “I am in Lebanon”).

A day later, I noticed that the Japanese headlines — after having used the term 無断出国 (mudan shukkoku, leaving the country without permission) — had settled on the word “逃亡” (tōbō, escape) to describe the former Nissan chief’s flight from Japan.

I can’t recall hearing too many stories like it in the past few years. In 2009, I remember hearing about Tatsuya Ichihashi who was 逃亡中 (tōbōchū, on the run) from the police. 大阪で逮捕された (Ōsaka de taiho sareta, He was arrested in Osaka) for the murder of Lindsay Hawker. Ghosn’s situation was different, though, because he was already 勾留されていた (kōryū sareteita, in police custody) when he fled.

The word 逃亡, I’m told, has a wider scope than 逃走 (tōsō), which also means “escape.” The second kanji in 逃走 means “run,” so that kind of escape is used for situations in which the person physically runs away from the scene: 万引き犯が逃走した (Manbiki-han ga tōsō shita, The shoplifter took off). Ghosn’s situation had him leaving his home, traveling to Osaka before boarding a private plane to Turkey and then Lebanon, which makes him a 逃亡者 (tōbōsha, fugitive) on the level of O.J. Simpson, whose escape was broadcast on TV in 1995, or Kazuko Fukuda, a woman who was 逃亡中 for nearly 15 years before being caught in 1997.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman also escaped, twice, from prison, but the term used for him was 脱獄 (datsugoku, prison break) as he was already behind bars. That made him a 脱獄犯 (datsugokuhan, escaped prisoner).

Those on the run aren’t always fugitives, though. Who could forget the harrowing scenes on March 11, 2011, as 多くの人々が津波から大急ぎで逃げた (ōku no hitobito ga tsunami kara ōisogi de nigeta, crowds of people fled from the tsunami in a rush). It’s important to note that the noun used for fleeing a natural disaster isn’t 逃亡, instead 避難 (hinan, taking shelter) is used. Those who found themselves in the path of Typhoon Hagibis last year may have heard this announcement from local authorities: 安全な場所へ迅速に避難してください (Anzenna basho e jinsoku ni hinan shite kudasai, Please evacuate to somewhere safe immediately).

While 逃げる is the verb used to describe the action of escaping, Japanese uses the word 逃れる (nogareru, to escape) to describe escape in a broader sense: 責任を逃れる (Sekinin o nogareru, To avoid responsibility) or 彼はわいろを使って罪を逃れた (kare wa wairo o tsukatte tsumi o nogareta, he paid a bribe to escape the charges).

Not all escapes need to be from such heavy situations. There have been times when I’ve found myself needing to make a quick getaway from a bad date or a party. In those cases, try using “すみません、明日ちょっと早いので…” (“Sumimasen, ashita chotto hayai node…,” “Sorry, [I have to wake up] a bit early tomorrow…”) or “すみません、家が遠いのでそろそろ帰ります…” (“Sumimasen, ie ga tōi node sorosoro kaerimasu,” “I’m sorry, but my place is far from here so I have to go home”). In that last excuse, you don’t necessarily need the “帰る” (kaeru, to go home). そろそろ (any time now) carries enough nuance that it can stand on its own. In fact, if you’d like to escape from a night out you can tell the people you’re with, じゃあ、そろそろ (jā, sorosoro, well, it’s about time) and they’ll get the message that you’d like to leave. Or, if things are going particularly badly, whisper to a friend “ちょっと逃げたい” (“Chotto nigetai,” “I’d like to get out of here”).

Another type of getaway that people like to take is a holiday, an escape from the daily grind or, in other words, a 現実逃避 (genjitsu tōhi, escape from reality). Not all such escapes are healthy, ギャンブルで現実逃避 (gyanburu de genjitsu tōhi, gambling to escape) probably doesn’t help with life’s problems and if you are doing that then it’s always best to remember the term 勝ち逃げ (kachinige, to quit while you’re ahead).

Ghosn is still in Lebanon and we were only a week into 2020 when news of another escape broke: 英メガン妃、カナダに到着 「距離を置く」 と発表 (Ei Megan-hi, Kanada ni tōchaku “kyori o oku” to happyō, Meghan [Duchess of Sussex] arrives in Canada and announces she wants to “keep distance”). Of course, this isn’t strictly speaking an escape as the duchess isn’t technically on the run. Still, that’s a lot of distance between her and England and it isn’t hard to imagine that at one point both her and her husband, Prince Harry, were muttering to each other, “ちょっと逃げたい.”

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