The "most reviled" chief executive in Japan has largely avoided the public spotlight, prompting unsubstantiated rumors that he's checked into a hospital, fled the country, or committed suicide, The Washington Post reports. Masataka Shimizu is the CEO of TEPCO, which owns the radiation-seeping Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station that hasn't yet been stabilized after being crippled in the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan weeks ago.

Although the Post cites company officials who say that their boss was sick but is now working on the second floor of the company's Tokyo headquarters, they were "vague" about whether or not they've actually seen him. His last public appearance, notes the paper, was on March 13th when he appeared on a late-night news conference to address the situation unfolding at Fukushima (the above picture is taken from that news conference). Bloomberg reported yesterday that the CEO is being subject to calls for his resignation and consulted observers speculating that it's "inevitable" that he'll resign, the only question is about the "timing" of the decision.

On first glance Shimizu's disappearance reminds of BP executive Tony Hayward's retreat to watch his 52-foot yacht "Bob" compete in a race while facing intense scrutiny for his role in the gulf oil spill. But the Post notes that "vanishing acts" among Japanese executives are apparently commonplace: "vanishing in times of crisis is something of a tradition among Japan’s industrial and political elite. During Toyota’s recall debacle last year, the carmaker’s chief also went AWOL," referring to the media spotlight that Toyota President Akio Toyoda shied away from.

Even though the paper quoted several people saying such disappearances are commonplace because of a Japanese preference for "invisible crisis management," the Post didn't give any additional examples of Japanese CEO's who have avoided the spotlight under pressure.

For their role in handling the nuclear crisis, TEPCO has been subjected to a ferocious backlash for poor management and improper inspections at the nuclear plants it owns, and recently for giving inaccurate information to reporters covering the situation.

[h/t: Business Insider]