'Solitary deaths' mean more business for specialty cleanup crews


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.").

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That is so sad and awful. To die like that, alone. Even worse, some people want to profit off of this. Tsk.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

This is BIG business...

There's an odd shop near my house that has an old Lamborghini Countach parked inside that the owner's been fixing up. The shop is filled with weird things like a large wooden shark, RC helicopter, and just other, random expensive looking things. The shop's logo has two lightning bolts making it look like a antique hobby shop, but wife told me it's actually one of these shops that clean up apartments and houses. I've always wanted to stop in and ask about the business. I wonder if the Lamborghini is the result of his successful business or one of the things that he collected from his clean up.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

My student's husband owns a lot of properties, and she helps manage them. Told me all sorts of stories about solitary deaths, some of them quite heartbreaking. In one case she and a building manager tried to get into the apartment of a tenant who hadn't paid rent for several months, but the door was jammed. The police discovered that the tenant had hanged himself from the doorknob.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Over a period of 4 or 5 years my father subconsciously began shedding his possessions before he passed away, I was amazed at how little he left behind. (And grateful, I guess, that I didn't have a ton of stuff to throw away.) He had never been attached to possessions. I'm beginning to realize, at long last, what a burden they are. This article is a subtle suggestion that for people over age 65, it's to start cleaning house, while we're still in shape to do it.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

"'Solitary deaths' mean more business for specialty cleanup crews"

what an insensible title, I do not feel comfortable to see "death" and "business" linked in the same sentence.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

“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.”

Tokyo Monogatari reminds us that this disconnect isn't a new phenomenon.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Respect for the Aged Day 敬老の日 is coming soon. Hopefully people who have aging relatives will at least make an attempt to go see them on that day. That some give time and attention to places like Yasukuni and ignore the living survivors of the 1940's seems wrong to me.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

@Aly Rustom,

Even worse, some people want to profit off of this. Tsk.

I was watching a special on this exact topic not too long ago on NHK, where NHK accompanied one of these "specialised" cleaning companies around.

In fairness to these companies, the cleanup is something that has to be done. Whether it is for a residence owned by the deceased or rented. They are typically retained by the landlord or, in the case of a residence owned by the deceased, whoever has authority over the premises. Regardless of the circumstances, the residence will need to be cleaned out and put in order for its disposition, whatever it may be. In some cases, it may require specialised work to remove physical traces of the deceased.

The company interviewed noted that it is not particularly easy, but it has to be done. And they try to do it in a respectful manner. Yes, they do make money, but I suppose that is no different than anyone in any business related to the deceased, such as funeral homes, cemeteries, etc.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Even worse, some people want to profit off of this. Tsk.

My question for you then, instead of pointing fingers here, to tell everyone just who is supposed to take care of the cleanup?

Someone found a need and provide a service that few if anyone else would do. You begrudge them making a profit?

I say tsk to you.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

When I was in the military many years ago, a coworker of mine shot himself in the head in a warehouse on base, and I had to help clean up afterward. There were bone chips, and a little brain matter, but the worst part was the blood. It had sprayed out in a big "S" pattern. The final horror happened when I moved a plastic tarp, not knowing it was full of blood. It was like somebody took a full bucket and tossed it along the floor. Whooooosh! I'll never get that picture out of my head, or the sound of it.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Human life is precious and kodokushi is not just a problem among the elderly but is also a problem among the younger generation. It is hurtful and heartbreaking. When people lose their connection to relatives, neighborhood,and workplace and gets found days after one's death it violates human dignity and cause mental distresses and causes relatives, neighbors and landlords with a financial burden. Policymakers should implement measures to reduce worries by creating financial support programs to fight poverty in old age, and the building and fostering of social support networks are very much needed for elderly people. In the end it is also probably possible to improve residential satisfaction by promoting community building, improving neighborhoods by greening, and tackling issues such as air pollution, littering and crime.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Given the increase in the number of elderly living alone, and the number of houses that have fallen into disrepair (many owned or occupied by the elderly), it seems the govt or a private company could offer a place to live w/ all their needs met in exchange for the deed to a house, if the pensioner and the family agreed. Many of these houses sit empty because the kids don`t want them, and many adult kids seem not to get home to see their folks more than once a year. If such a plan were offered as a way for the elderly to live in a supervised environment closer to their kids, and were financially viable - for example, a real estate company that has lots of 1DK apartments on offer now that the bottom has fallen out of the student housing market - it might be a win-win.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This is hardly "news." This pattern has been taken up by the Japanese media for the better part of a decade. The more common term is 孤独死 kodokushi, not kortisushi as given in the article. Similar companies can also be found in the US.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"What an insensible title, I do not feel comfortable to see "death" and "business" linked in the same sentence."

How about mortuary or crematorium? They don't bury or cremate for free. There are several businesses that profit death - grave diggers, morticians, coroners, funeral directors do get a pay check and this is just a few.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

kyushu: So do the Buddhist or Shinto Priests.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

had a friend who did this exact same job, cleaning up people after theyve been dead for many months, or the messes left over after they used a hun to commit suicides etc. the work is smelly dirty, but you get accustomed to it. but since very few people actually want to do the job the pay is excellent.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I have watched documentary about cleaner after Kodokushi. I have also read article about robots who can care for this elderly person, but until this is wide spread why should not have some agency or some organisation which can give to all those elderly person something like smartwatch which monitor they heart rate and other function and it is comfortable to wear and connected online over 4g network and if person are fall or dead that this sent to central of this organisation/ agency and they can inform authority?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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