Watch out for the human vultures who prey on the departed

Ishin seiri
Ishin seiri Photo: アオサン/Pixta

Japan's aging population presents a host of challenging problems: Their medical treatment, elderly care, and disposal of their possessions after they pass on.

Ihin seiri (disposal of personal belongings of the deceased) typically involves several days of heavy work, and it's common to entrust these jobs to firms that specialize in such services. Unfortunately, reports Spa (Jan 30), this can involve numerous pitfalls, as many such outfits are out to turn over a quick yen at the customer's expense.

Last year, Chiyoko Noda (a pseudonym) was entrusted with cleaning up on behalf of a departed relative.

"A man who said he was in the recycling business showed up, claiming to be a friend of the deceased, and telling me that he had 'made a promise that he'd take care of things.' He started carrying off appliances and metal objects. When I questioned his 'promise' and requested written proof, he told me it had all been arranged verbally.

"I myself had no legal authority, so I had to let him have his way," Noda said.

According to Takahiro Kamata, president of Fuchu City-based Aikom, it's unwise to accept a verbal estimate as many operators, preying on people's ignorance, are said to demand as much as five times the going market rate.

These sleazy operators have other means of profiting. When sifting through the belongings, they keep an eye out for items likely to bring high prices upon resale. These include foreign brand wristwatches, antiques, perfume, precious metals and gemstones.

According to Kamata, when they spot an item with resale value, they either won't offer to buy it, or they buy it for a fraction of the going rate. Or perhaps they don't have the discernment to assess items' value to begin with. Recycle stores on the other hand are good at spotting salable items, but don't handle cleanups.

Spa warns that these wrecking crews might also engage in a number of illegal activities, which include theft of valuables from the site, illegal dumping of waste, overcharging for their services and selling off possessions.

Most of these operators, moreover, possess low technical skills. While many claim to have "private qualifications" (which can be obtained for an outlay of a few tens of thousands of yen), they are unable to properly remove residual odors from the deceased's body fluids.

Such unpleasant jobs are relegated to what is called "specialty cleaners," who undertake such tasks as cleaning up rooms where a person died, either alone or under questionable circumstances. They are also brought in to tackle those notorious gomi yashiki (rubbish houses) wherein resided compulsive collectors of clutter which often spilled over into the yard.

One such specialist is Hisashi Sasaki, who heads a company called Mago no Te. 

Sasaki warns that shady operators have been known to charge 10 times the prices quoted in their advertisements.

"They especially target females or men with weakened constitutions who can't manage the job themselves," he says. "Sometimes they promote their services by saying 'We'll resell any valuables we find, so income from that evens out the costs and helps us keep our prices lower.'"

Many such operators illegally dump the trash into a river or in mountainous areas. In some cases the police are able to sift through the illegally discarded items and trace items to the former owner, afterwards confronting the customer (not the dumper) with illegal dumping.

"These guys have no real skills, and aren't interested in doing a proper job," says Sasaki. "They might remove the trash and sweep the floor at most. But it takes special knowhow to remove residual odors, so the owner winds up having to order the job a second time, so it will be done properly."

Entering the homes of the departed is creepy enough, but sometimes, workers have been known to encounter paranormal phenomena. While cleaning a room where the resident died from an accident, for example, the air might suddenly seem to become heavier, or a foul smell emanate from nearby.

Aikom's Kamata says he knows of cases where music CDs inexplicably popped out from somewhere, glass windows suddenly cracked, or the TV switched on by itself.

"Perhaps the spirit of the departed person is still lingering in the room, and wants to inform someone of their death," Kamata suggests.

Spa's article ends with a sidebar advising ways to weed out the most obvious offenders. At the top of the places to be avoided are shapeshifting businesses that change their name every year, and those whose websites list nonexistent company addresses, or which post attractive photos of their "headquarters" that actually belong to other companies.

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Ah yes, the notorious "gomi yashiki." My place is probably borderline. (At least it doesn't overflow into the yard.) If I don't get rid of more clutter by the time I shed this mortal coil, someone's probably going to be stuck with a big bill for cleanup services. I doubt if my old Seiko watch has any resale value, however.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I admire my Dad, he cleaned up his place before he departed. Myself, on the other hand, am more of a pack rat. I know I should throw a lot of stuff away, or donate it, but never seem to find the time to do it.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

but never seem to find the time to do it.


but you have time to think up conspiracy theories about trump and Putin

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Yes there would be some scumbag operators around preying on the unwary or uncaring! With the older generation Japanese distrust of banks they would no doubt find a lot of cash that wouldn't find it's way to the homes owner!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Recycle shops are no better.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"I myself had no legal authority, so I had to let him have his way," Noda said.

Jesus wept. This is so Japanese.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

I lost a wedding ring to the people that cleared out my mother's house. Honestly not quite sure what to think about it, as they did send my mother's ring to me and they were obviously not wealthy people. Not a fun job having to deal with quite often horrifying biological hazards.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Another fun thing is we literally put stuff out on the curb and people would take it away. Stuff I would never want for myself...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I wonder if a National Database of only government-approved vendors/businesses might help to sift through these vultures?

A database that the public can readily access and see for themselves who are qualified and who are not.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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