Local governments work out plans to prevent isolated deaths


Recently, there have been many cases of people dying in isolation in their homes. Japanese media refer to the phenomenon as "kodokushi," which refers to “a person who lives alone and dies alone.”

In many cases, elderly people living apart from their family members have died, but in other cases, it has been parents and disabled children.

In February, three people were found dead in an apartment in Saitama City, after having apparently died of starvation, police said. The three bodies, believed to be a couple in their 60s and their son in his 30s, were found in the apartment after an agent for a housing company came to collect unpaid rent. The family was 6 months behind in rent and gas and electricity had been cut off.

In almost all the reported cases, no one has noticed that something was amiss until it was too late.

The Saitama prefectural government is working on a strategy to prevent deaths in isolation. According to an interim report, they are considering a system in which gas and waterworks employees or delivery personnel report anything suspicious when they check the meters at apartments and homes, TBS reported.

There have already been some successes with this strategy. In March, a 75-year-old woman was found dead, while her 45-year-old mentally disabled son was found in an emaciated condition in their house in Iruma, Saitama Prefecture, after a Yakult drinks delivery woman notified police that something was wrong. The Yakult woman told police that newspapers hadn’t been collected for several days and that the elderly woman had not looked well last time she saw her.

The woman had died of an unspecified illness, while the son, who cannot feed himself, was lying in his bed on the second floor. He was taken to hospital and survived.

In another case, in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, a Yomiuri Shimbun deliveryman noticed that many newspapers had accumulated in the mailbox at a house occupied by a 82-year-old woman living alone. He told police afterwards that he looked through a window and saw a light. He said he felt something was wrong and called 110.

When the police arrived, they found the woman had collapsed in the bath. She was still alive and saved thanks to the report by the newspaper deliveryman.

The head of the newspaper distribution office said he had asked other deliverymen to pay attention to elderly people living alone, according to TBS.

Officials say it is difficult to get administrative agencies to coordinate their efforts in monitoring the residences of elderly and disabled. Since the February starvation case in Saitama, the city has held many meetings to discuss cooperation among the various utilities and companies that dispatch delivery personnel.

One obstacle is the issue of privacy laws. Under the Personal Information Protection Law, utilities, for example, are not allowed to use information about customers for any purpose other than carrying out their duties. Even if they find something suspicious in meter readings, it can be a violation of the law to report it.

To get around that problem, Yakult made an agreement with the town hall and local police department whereby they could contact police if they noticed anything amiss. As a result, the Yakult delivery woman contacted police when she spotted the uncollected newspapers at the home of the 75-year-old woman.

Yakult President Shigeo Sudo told TBS that “We have to be allowed to report anything wrong when we visit customers. Otherwise, there will be no decrease in 'kodokushi.'"

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One obstacle is the issue of privacy laws.

One obstacle is the anally retentive adherence to moronic laws. If a person notices something is amiss in an elderly person's home, it is just human decency to do something about it; not ignore it because some government drone decided it's a violation of privacy.

the city has held many meetings

To figure out how to get people to act like humans?

13 ( +13 / -0 )

That is result culture influence form west. Care to explain how? In the west, plenty of people live in homes and communities for the age. People actually get on with their neighbours and speak to them. Two things that don't seem to happen here. I have been in my place for a year - new building. I don't know a soul and I make an effort to say hello and open doors. The others? Scuttle around and avoid looking at one another. That isn't the west's doing at all. Blame society here on not being about to socialize properly.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

I may sound heartless and cold, but I consider the blame lays with the people themselves. You don't need the government or laws to live a life surrounding yourself with friends, who will help you when you're in trouble. Of course there are exceptions (disabled, all friends passed away, etc.), but in many cases it's just the sad case of people having no friends or close relatives. and I'm not talking only about elderly here, there have been news about younger people discovered by the real estate company or neighbors from the smell...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Let me guess, they're going to make some glorious legislation they can pat themselves on the back over, then 'leave it up to the municipalities' to organize it all. The municipalities will then do nothing, stating that they have no framework to deal with the problem.

In short, tax payer's money wasted on lip-service.

Of course, that said, if they DID manage to do something, we'd never hear about such deaths being prevented in the news -- it's only the deaths you hear about.

Moderator: If you bothered to read the story, you'll see that they did manage to do something and two lives were saved.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

timeon: "I may sound heartless and cold, but I consider the blame lays with the people themselves."

Yes and no. It's hard to imagine people would just lay down and starve to death in a nation as advanced as Japan, where when starving they SHOULD be able to find some handouts somewhere. But it's a bigger problem then that (hence the 'no' part). How many times a week do you read about 'such and such person/family found dead' well after they died and no one noticed? Worse yet, how often do you read about neighbours saying, "Oh! We were so worried about him. He seemed so emaciated and had bruises all the time" AFTER a kid has died from abuse? People need to get more involved, hard as it is in this day and age. My only fear is as I stated in my post -- it's lip-service and nothing will actually come of it.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I would love to see more human interaction. but while this may work in the country side, in a big city it won't happen. I live in a big apartment block downtown Tokyo, I say hi to my neighbors if we meet in the elevator, we sometimes chat, but that's all. if I will be sick or have a problem, I won't expect some dude living nearby to come check me out. I would expect my friends or my family to care for me, the way I also care for them when they have a problem. living in a house in the countryside, probably things would be different, and interaction with the neighbors stronger

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You'd think life insurance companies would pick up the ball on this one. After all, checking in on the elderly that hold policies and making sure they are healthy would maybe decrease the amount of payouts.

Also, I don't like the idea of governments depending on private companies to solve what they think (the govnt) has identified as a problem.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I remember reading about a system they have somewhere in England for elderly people. There is an outside light connected to the toilet and if the toilet is not flushed after 24 hours the light comes on. Pretty simple, but very effective.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

How many times a week do you read about 'such and such person/family found dead' well after they died and no one noticed? Yes but why do we read about this? Because these people have either no friends or no relationship with their family. For a country that bleats on and on about how important family is, they have rather poor family relationships. For a country that bleated on and on about Kizuna (how quickly that died off), they have very little. My neighbour could drop dead tomorrow and I wouldn't have a clue until they started to smell. It is certainly no fault of mine - I have put forward an effort to say hello, chat, get to know them and they've done nothing but ignore the gestures. It isn't just me. At least with me, I "demand" some sort of aisatsu because I greet them and they pretty much have to reply - though some can't even be bothered to do that. I have seen the neighbours on the both sides of me ignore each other in the parking lot when CLEARLY they've seen each other. Heads down and ignore each other. What a sad way to live and it is sad that society is like this. Say what you like about the west and how it is all crashing down but I knew my neigbours - and know all of my family's neighbours even though I don't live in the country. I spent a year abroad and hung out with my neigbours - German, English, Canadian and one Japanese guy because I made the effort as did they. No one here seems to make any effort and then when people read about this stuff in the newspaper they expect the government to do something?! Great. More tax money wasted on something that could easily be solved if people were just a bit kinder to each other.

Family doesn't know if you're alive or dead? Why? Because no one bothers to keep in touch. One a year nengajo just doesn't cut it. Obligation, not caring. Indeed, some families have difficult situations - lack of money, disabled child... but if anything, they need to be MORE involved with keeping in touch with their family and friends because they need more support - physically and mentally. To be honest, (and I am the furthest thing from religious) but I think church, synagogs and mosques offer a lot to people and Japan lacks this sense of community. There is no sense of community. Not in any of the places I've lived anyway - and it certainly isn't because I don't put the effort in. Thing is, if no one else does, there is no point.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I completely agree with tmarie, and am getting more and more irritated over the years as Japanese repeatedly tell me how much they care about family and neighbours, unlike the "selfish" and "individualistic" west. My experience in the west (28 years in UK, America, South Africa and Australia): I knew all my neighbours and we all got on well and watched out for each other. Mum is here from the UK for a few months right now and while she is away she is in regular contact with her neighbours by email, who are bringing in her post, keeping things dusted for her and running her car around once a week or so, keeping an eye on the gardens, etc.

One particular case in my old neighbourhood in the UK an elderly woman living alone had a dog who died. She was devastated but knew she couldnt look after another dog anyway. The neighbours got together (about 6 households in the street) and got her a new dog but take responsibility for it - sharing walks, costs of medical and food bills etc, but the dog stays with the old lady for company. The kids are thrilled because they get a dog to play with anytime they want. The old lady is thrilled because the house is always full of children and neighbours helping out or just hanging out.

Here in Japan: 10 years experience in Kawasaki and Tokyo. Barely know my neighbours, and the current ones: I greet every time I see them but they dont even answer - just look down at the floor. My husband NEVER speaks to his family and they never call him. I call them once a week and catch up on things and tell HIM what is going on with his family! I am told by Japanese that family only contact each other if there is a problem, and if they never hear from them, they assume everything is ok. What a sad way to live. There are other neighbours who I will exchange greetings and smiles with, but we know nothing about each others lives and if anyone needs help or not. I think this is a very lonely place.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

How about this. Instead of having the police harass innocent (usually) cyclists and checking that their 3000¥ mamachari is not "borrowed" the keystones instead wander the beat and check on things like 10 newspapers in an old persons letterbox. Would that be making them work too hard though??

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There should be guidelines (per- N industry) that will fix it? Your old, report it and the government will check, that's what they do? It's worked so well in the past.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Your old, report it and the government will check, that's what they do? Personally, I think zero pension should be paid unless they get their butts to city hall with ID to prove who they are. Can't get there? Call city hall and have someone visit. Would save us millions as we all know many families aren't reporting deaths because they want the cash. Thing is, that doesn't solve the problem that is being discussed. The only way this is going to be solved is if society changes how they interact with each other.

I had to laugh. I saw my neighbour today changing his tires and I swear to god, he hid anytime a car came in the car park. Heaven forbid he has to see or say anything to any of the neighbours. So when I went out, I honked my horn and waved. I am sure he probably told his wife about the crazy neighbour.... Sad.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I finally saw my neighbour today for the first time since I have been living where I am -- four years. Her window was opened as she was cleaning the ledge with a q-tip. I had rang the bell a few times when I moved here to say hi and give a gift but there was no answer. Today, when I saw her and said hello she slammed the window shut -- the cleaning only half done.

How on earth are such people going to ever know or care about what happens to the people around them, despite government lip-service and encouragement that the people themselves do all the work? It's going to get worse, not better.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Adding to what tmarie said, there is something that the government could do. Every town in the West has a central square and I find that those are missing in the infrastructure here. Central squares can be used for all kinds of social activities.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How about putting a camera in everybody's house that the authorities can use to monitor "suspicious" behavior, like a lonely death for example.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Every town in the West has a central square and I find that those are missing in the infrastructure here. While I like the suggestion, I'm going to have to disagree with "every town". Mine doesn't have one - and we don't need one because we're actually nice to each other.

I have a former student who is living in the UK and is just about to come back to Japan. She doesn't want to. Why? "Because people in England are so nice to each other. Always saying please, thank you, sorry, hello.... No one speaks to each other in Japan and it is cold and rude". As a female, I've told her perhaps she should stay there seeing as how she has a chance at a career. We all know she doesn't here for the most part.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

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