On August 9, the body of an unemployed man, age 65, was found in an apartment in Nagoya's Chikusa Ward. The corpse was found in a seated position with legs crossed, and surrounded by piles of rubbish.
"Last November, the man had told his employer he didn't feel well and wanted to take time off," relates a local newspaper reporter to Shukan Asahi Geino (Sept 17). "After that he never showed up for work. Unable to reach him, the company that managed the apartment requested a cleanup crew to go in and prepare it for reoccupancy. That's when they found him. He'd been dead for over six months, and the body was partially decomposed. He was nearly buried in the rubbish."
This is described as a classic case of "koritsu-shi," literally "solitary death."
According to data made public by the Tokyo coroner's office, in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available, some 2,733 people over the age of 65 were found dead while living alone in Tokyo's 23 wards. The figures showed a continuous increase over the previous decade. The office also had data on the average number of days that had passed from the dead person's last human contact. Compared with six days for women, the average for men was double.
"Keepers," a specialty cleanup firm founded by Taiichi Yoshida in 2002, has 13 years of experience tending to the postmortem needs of such individuals, including "respectful" handling of their possessions -- as opposed to other operators who typically treat the property of the deceased as basically rubbish.
"When we organize possessions of the departed, the body has already been removed, but a foul odor of death lingers, and stains or other indications of the person's final moments remain," says Yoshida. "They serve as traces that a person lived there, or to put it in other words, of human existence."
Yoshida recalls one case in which a man in his 50s was three months in arrears of paying rent. So the landlord, after summoning the police, opened the door. The man was found in bed, having expired three months earlier.
"The police notified the man's brother, who came to Tokyo from his rural home. He told the police he had never once been to visit his brother's apartment. "Send me the bill for the cleanup. I'll leave everything to you," he notified Yoshida, and returned home.
The descriptions of the conditions in which some of those who die alone are found are enough to make the reader cringe. Likewise the stories about family indifference, which seems to be worsening.
In one case, a man's body was found in a public housing tract one month after his death.
"After the cleanup, the man's son appeared," a shocked Yoshida recalls. "He lived in the same building, one floor upstairs. Even though his father had been dead for a month, he hadn't taken any notice. Actually, cases like this are not that uncommon."
"Members of the younger generation have less contact with real people; instead they depend on their PCs or smartphones," Yoshida observes. "Starting with TV sets, they have spent all their lives watching images on videos, DVDs, and the Internet. It gives them the illusion that they have ties to someone. Instead it's made them clumsy in terms of their human relationships. I suppose these kinds of solitary deaths will be shifting from the elderly to the younger generation."
According to the 2015 edition of the government's White Paper on the Elderly, 1.39 million males and 3.41 million females over the age of 65 are living alone. That should mean expanding demand for people such as Yoshida. But the trade has also attracted unscrupulous people, and trouble occasionally results.
"For example, some outfits try and pull the wool over the eyes of the customer by saying they used a special cleaning solvent that is approved by the such-and-such association," Yoshida warns. "They use gimmicks like that to inflate the charges."
Avoiding more of these sad stories, article concludes, will depend on greater efforts to forge the kind of bonds that tie people together. As a well known saying goes, "Hito no furi mite waga furi naose" ("By others' faults, men correct their own.").© Japan Today