Japan′s Lost Centenarians | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 10.09.2010
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Japan's Lost Centenarians

More than 230.000 people listed as alive and at least 100 years old in Japan cannot be found, including 884 who would be 150 or older. So where did all the centenarians go?


Japan's population is shrinking, about a quarter of the population is over 65

In Japan senior citizen Sogen Kato died alone, without anyone noticing. His demise was only discovered when his neighbours, arriving at his home to celebrate his 111th birthday, found Sogen Kato’s mummified corpse. Alarmed by this discovery, the authorities went to check on Japan’s oldest woman, 113-year-old Fusa Furuya. They discovered that no one knew where she was. Her daughter said, she had last spoken with her mother in 1986 and she had just assumed that her mother moved in with her brother.

So where did Grandma go?

Kato’s case and Furuya’s disappearance led to some soul searching in Japan over the situation of elderly people living in isolation. Now, a nationwide survey launched by the government has unearthed new scandalous information. The Justice Ministry says a search of family registries found that 234,354 people recorded as at least 100 years old could not be located at their listed addresses. The government has instructed regional legal offices to delete the names of people aged 120 or older from the registries if their whereabouts cannot be established.

Many of those whose whereabouts are unknown may have died or may have emigrated without their status being reported to the local authorities. Some accuse the relatives of those missing of having kept the deaths of their relatives secret in order to keep receiving their pension payments. This certainly rings true in the case of a 58-year-old woman living near Osaka, who admitted to keeping her father's corpse hidden at home for the past five years. Another grisly account that highlights the dark side of longevity in Japan.

Living alone in the twilight years

Japan Familie Essen Sushi Algen

Back to the nuclear family

The land of the rising sun is famed for its longevity. Women in Japan have a life expectancy of 86,4 years, which is the highest in the world. Japanese men average 79,5 years. More than 40.000 Japanese have reached the centenarian milestone, and about a quarter of the population is over 65.

But while younger people used to take in their ageing parents, the current trend is to return to the nuclear family. Young Japanese migrate to large cities, leaving many elderly people to fend for themselves in rural areas. The government is now considering how to ensure that the authorities register where elderly people live. Another idea is to consider measures that allow people who live well into old age to continue to be a part of their communities.

While all these measures might be deemed to little too late for Kato and Furuya, at least the media attention given to their cases has shed some light on the plight of senior citizens living in Japan.

Editor: Grahame Lucas

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