Japan’s elderly: gone but not forgotten

This article was last updated on May 19, 2022

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Japan has long had a reputation for some of the oldest people on the planet ascribed to a superior diet and an unparalleled dedication to the elderly. However, a number of recent incidents have greatly tarnished this reputation and started an investigation into just where the truth lies.
The story started in late July when officials in Tokyo wanted to visit Sogen Kato, supposedly Japan’s oldest man at 111 years. With the death of the previous "eldest" man, officials wanted to congratulate Kato on his new status.
Police learned that Sogen Koto, supposedly Japan’s oldest man at 111 years, had been dead for 32 years, his decayed and partially mummified body still in his home. Apparently his daughter, now 81 hid his death in order to continue collecting his pension.
Government officials, alarmed by this, set about checking on other elderly residents and the results have not been encouraging. Tokyo’s eldest woman at 113 has not been seen since the 1980s. Another woman, possibly the world’s eldest at 125 seems to have been missing for a long time. Her current registered address was turned into a park – in 1981.
Authorities now count 281 Japanese over the age of 100 that they can’t find. With a public outcry growing, the country’s health minister has said officials will now meet with all people 110 years or older to verify that they are actually alive. So far, nobody has figured out if these missing people represent sloppy record keeping on the part of the government or whether this may be pension fraud on a large scale. Some may have moved into long term care facilities but finding a mummified corpse makes officials suspicious that some may have died.
Japan will celebrate a national holiday on September 21, Respect for the Aged Day. According to last year’s annual health ministry’s report, the country boasts 40,399 older than 100 years but now that number will certainly end up being lower.
2 aspects of this story are immerging. Some elderly people may be completely ignored by their own families: the families no longer know where these people are and fail to notify the police about searching for them. The dark side of the story is families failing to file death notices, keeping the death a secret and continuing to collect pension payments. This has raised fears that the current welfare system could be easily exploited by relatives.

Click HERE to read more columns by William Belle.

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