Japan Today



Solitary deaths among middle-aged single males living alone increase


In its Golden Week double issue, Shukan Shincho (May 3-10) runs a collection of articles under the headline "Lifestyles that will lead to collapsing from illness," covering nine separate themes. They include how an overly spartan diet can lead to stroke and heart disease; how such strenuous activities as mountain climbing and running in marathons can be fatal for middle-aged people; the potential dangers of organically grown foods; how over-ingestion of liquids is bad for the body; the physical perils of late-night desk work; and the relationship between stroke and periodontal disease.

One of the items ties in with another topic that has recently become a point of controversy in Japan: that of "kodoku-shi," or dying alone. This, Shukan Shincho suggests, is the downside to the happy-go-lucky lifestyle of middle-aged male divorcees who live by themselves.

Two years ago, the Tokyo Medical Examiner's office issued a report that gave statistics on solitary deaths in the 23 central wards of Tokyo. The first aspect of the data that strikes readers is how rapidly their numbers have increased. In 2006, the total number of all solitary deaths in Tokyo was 3,395 -- up threefold over 1987. The latter figure comes to nearly 10 per day. The 2,362 males was more than twice the number of females.

The second shocking statistic was the ages of the subjects. Taking the data for 2005, males ages 40 through 49 exceeded 100; the peak number of male deaths was 404, occurring between the ages 60 to 64.

"Even as part of our regular medical duties, we see a lot of solitary deaths," says Yoshimasa Kanawaku, an ad-hoc medical examiner who worked on the report. "The results this time, which showed that men past age 50 were susceptible to solitary deaths, were expected.

"This does not disregard that the older a person becomes the more likely he is to die, but that the high occurrence of solitary deaths by middle aged males is something that cannot be ignored," Kanawaku adds.

What factors are behind this phenomenon?

"More men who belong to the age of those who reached the compulsory retirement age are dying alone," states Akikazu Takata, professor emeritus at Hamamatsu University School of Medicine. "When such men leave their company organizations while in middle age, unlike females, they often lose their friendships and horizontal relationships. Living alone in apartments in the capital apart from family members or relatives, and not even forming relationships with their neighbors, I suppose alienation is common."

A telling statistic from the report is the number of days that transpire between the estimated time of death and discovery of the body. As opposed to an average of 6.5 days for females, the figure for males, 12 days, is roughly double.

Professor Takata also points out another distinctive finding from the Tokyo report.

"In the case solitary deaths in Tokyo, the biggest problem was that the victims were not seeing a regular doctor. In regional parts of the country, even though people may have to travel for a long distance to visit a general hospital, attending physicians will respond to a telephone call and call on a person's home. But in Tokyo when a person feels slightly indisposed he has no one to talk to, and most people are hesitant to dial 119 for an ambulance.

"So people put off seeking treatment, not realizing their condition may be serious, and in many cases death results."

The factor in many solitary deaths is illness, particularly cardiac problems, and alcohol is viewed as a main contributing factor.

"Men who habitually dine in restaurants or who eat box lunches from convenience stores don't get a proper diet, and are susceptible to high blood pressure and diabetes. This diet also raises the risk of heart attacks," says Takata.

So gentlemen if you want to live long, the magazine advises, get busy re-establishing your marital relationship.

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Living alone need not be a 'lonely' experience. And one doesn't die from loneliness, regardless of what sociologists and statisticians say. The cure is simple - volunteer work (with the elderly and the young), writing (whether for pay or not), gardening (impossible I know in a Tokyo apartment, but who says single older men need to stay in an apartment in Tokyo?). How about solo travel? There's lots of that out there. There is freedom in aloneness - a mental strength - but loneliness - a mental illness - keeps you captive. Loneliness is only a myth, as stated in a 'New York' magazine from December 2008, by Jennifer Senior. If you want to really know about the potential of living alone, read 'Going Solo: The extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone', a book-length thesis on the social ramifications of living alone, by New York University sociology professor Eric Klinenberg. His research is meticulous, his commentary spot-on insightful. Living alone is not about dating websites and playing the lonely heart, believe this volunteer, writer, photographer, gardener and traveler.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Many Japanese males have the social skills of a road kill ferret. They only have themselves to blame for their solitude and misery.

In my own apartment complex, no matter how much you try to pass the briefest of social pleasantries with the male residents under approx 45 years of age, such as good morning or good evening, you are met with a scowl or just a total blank of your own existence. They scuttle of to their apartments and shelter themselves within their kiddie porn manga (I know this because of the large number of dog eared manga mags left out on gomi day) and no doubt their otuku laden PCs. They hide away from the reality of an adult world. Sustaining themselves on copious amounts of 7-11 bentos (again the gomi bears witness to that).

It''s not as if you can say this is a cultural trait, as witnessed by the spirit of the older generation, it's definitely the product of an education system which went dreadfully wrong in the 70's and 80's and bad parenting.

Japanese society has always, I suspect, been a draconian society and it takes a hard man to socially swim and not drown within its rule laden seas, but 50 years ago it seemed to have given the men a spiritual backbone as well as a schooling into its social mores.

The definition and reporting of hikikimori in Japanese society is extremely restricted and as a result down sized in the actual numbers involved. The reality of Japan in the 21st Centrury is that that you have sizeable minorities of japanese males described in the article who might well come back to bite Japan iin the XXXX in the near future, if they haven't all died of a stroke or diabetes.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Dog - you're absolutely spot on. There does appear to be a deep-rooted inability to conduct the most elementary social interaction here.

Look at the parks most Sundays. The kids are laughing and playing, while the fathers - many of whom live in the same apartment building - distance themselves as far from each other as is geometrically possible and busy themselves with their iPhones to preclude the risk of eye contact.

Even walking along a corridor at work or a walkway in an apartment building, the most fundamental civilities - the aisatsu we were told over and over again with each commercial break last Spring - are eschewed for a pantomime of fixing one's eyeline marginally to the left or right as a pretext for pretending the person walking directly towards you doesn't exist.

I'm not surprised a lot of people die alone here. I'm surprised they can still subscribe to the Doublethink of "We Japanese consider those around us and how we might be judged" when so many of them employ RainMan-level degrees of social ineptitude.

And, just in passing, when did "ages 60 - 64" become "middle-aged"?

8 ( +9 / -1 )

And, just in passing, when did "ages 60 - 64" become "middle-aged"?

In Japanese the term 中古年 (chuukonen) is used to mean middle aged and elderly. The dividing line between the chuu and the ko is generally considered to be age 65.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Funny, my wife moved out last Tuesday and my health improved overnight. More sleep, better nutrition and less stress are generally for the better.

7 ( +8 / -2 )

Lucky you Reformbasher. Check the balance of your bank account.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

I feel sorry for Japanese guys.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

It's funny how come most of my friends who married early look 20 years older than i do. I think the best advice is don't marry until you done and achieved most of the things you want to do, cause once your married you won't have a chance.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I have always heard that married people live longer and healthier lives than single people. Of course that requires a good marriage. But in today's society a good marriage is becoming more difficult to achieve. As I am not a psychologist I do not have an answer.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Of course that requires a good marriage And with that one comment, you've solved the mystery. Just how many happily married people do you know? There is a reason why Japan scores low on the happiness index - they aren't happy. I think they get pushed into marriage thinking it will be the be all and end all. It isn't. They get pushed into having kids for the same reason... nope. The guys (and females) who don't marry think they've missed out and well, stress over it.

Japan needs to do something about the lack of social skills here. The first few months of uni classes are painful. Just watching them all try and avoid each other, avoid eye contact... The only ones who seem to be able to get on with it are the sport's kids and the cool kids. Confidence is everything but this country just sucks it out of everyone in JHS/HS....

3 ( +6 / -3 )

How sad , if all these people have Lord Jesus Christ in their lives they will never experience loneliness , in life or in death. Please seek God while you are still alive , because its too late to change anything after your death.

-15 ( +3 / -18 )

Solitary death doesn't happen to Jpeople only. Just 2 winters ago, a Peruvian man living alone in the danchi was only discovered dead when maggots appeared on his door which is opposite the door of another Peruvian family. So sad knowing a man died far from his country and family. So sad still that we foreign residents in the danchi were too much busy minding our own surival that we fail to see who needs real support.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Many people cherish and are very protective of their own chosen moments of solitude, but we also know that periods of time alone can send anyone into a depressive state, or make you like you are going crazy. More specifically, a kind of panic can set in when you realize you are alone with your thoughts with no one to affirm or deny the validity of what you are thinking. When you are by yourself for too long, you start to question your own understanding of reality of who you really are and what the world is really like. You need interactions with other people because they are such a significant part of how you understand and enjoy life and for reasons for living. All people seem to depend on varying amounts and intensities of social interaction to keep them happy, stable, and sane. This is not surprising given that human beings are social animals by nature. Hence life is what you make it. Design it and choose not to be a lone ranger.

1 ( +2 / -1 )


Lucky you Reformbasher. Check the balance of your bank account.

Card made invalid, password changed, locks replaced.

House, car and bank account all in my name. ;-)

2 ( +4 / -2 )


When I'm in I see a lot of school age kids, even elementary school kids, dating.

As for marriage, things are not that rosy overseas either.

I'm already looking for wife no. 3. And guess what - she'll be Japanese, just like the first two.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

It may be statistically true that married men live longer - but most of them wish they were dead sooner.

As for lack of social skills, I didn't think Japanese men were any different from American men. Maybe a tad more emotional, which was refreshing.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

While it is true that a married man lives longer than a single bachelor, the married man is must more willing to die.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I'm already looking for wife no. 3. And guess what - she'll be Japanese, just like the first two.

.... and some people just never learn....

And actually, things ARE rosier in other developed nations. You might want to take a look at the index before making such comments. From what I recall, Japan ranked THE lowest out of developed nations....

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@Paul and wind and sea, don't ever say that otherwise you'll make your wives happy. What's the use of divorces or mere disappearance and later emerging with another identity. There are ways other than wishing one's death just to be out of marriage.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Looking for wife no. 3 and she'll be Jwoman? So many interwoven dreams that marrying a Jwoman is a sure passport to its realization. Can it not be?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Oh my goodness why so many minus on mine? Never mind, any Christian who know the Bible will understand what I am talking about.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

This is just the result of what I have been saying for ages, most Japanese DONT know how to have fun, live life, many are terrible at it, toss in single or divorced for many & it gets worse.

But it doesnt seem many really want to have a good life, they like it better watching to make sure all around are sufficiently miserable, screw that!

0 ( +1 / -1 )


actually I think many here can see through the various religions, while there is some good teaching, which are mostly just common sense stuff you dont need religion to recognise, many see religion for what it is, it pits people against each other, causes lots & lots of strife & if you look at history right up to what happened today a lot of death to boot

Me I will gladly pass on religion

1 ( +2 / -1 )


And actually, things ARE rosier in other developed nations. You might want to take a look at the index before making such comments. From what I recall, Japan ranked THE lowest out of developed nations....

Are you referring to the very same statistics that get rehashed constantly on JT? Great, we can just look at data now and sterotype an entire country. What could possibly go wrong?

@trinklets2 I'm enjoying my single life, it's great to be free again. But I would like to remarry sometime. As I spent a large number of years living in Japan and would like to marry somebody with the same interest in Japanese history and culture, the obvious match for me would be a Japanese woman who shares the same interests.

Now, not all Japanese are knowlegeable about their own country or even care. So I have to look for the right partner. I'd also like to marry a woman who likes the outdoors and is involved with (or at least understands) classic bujutsu.

Not sure what you mean in your comment, but I would like to clarify my reason for remarriage.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Me too GW

0 ( +0 / -0 )

And, just in passing, when did "ages 60 - 64" become "middle-aged"?

When 130-year-old people started showing up on the pension rolls, of course!


2 ( +2 / -0 )

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