Tokyo Notes

Sad Case of Centenarians

Dozens of missing senior citizens signals a sad state of affairs for a rapidly aging Japan.

The story of Japan’s missing centenarians continues to grab front page headlines in local media here.

The latest figure for the number of missing people who have supposedly reached their 100th birthday is 35, according to a Kyodo News report Thursday. While it’s a small fraction of the 40,000 centenarians believed to be alive in Japan, it’s a figure that still paints a sad picture, of senior citizens in the country living out their final years without contact either with their families or even with local authorities. This is at odds with Japan’s image of happy record-breaking longevity and a general sense of respect for the elderly.

And to think it was only last week that the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry was boasting about how Japanese women had come out top again in world life expectancies, for the 25th consecutive year. The news later in the week that the mummified remains of Sogen Kato had been found in his room, conjured up a less envious scenario of life as a senior citizen in Japan.

In the case of Kato’s family, and some others, there is suspicion that relatives might have kept authorities in the dark over people’s deaths so they could help themselves to their ‘loved ones’ pensions and other benefit payments.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

But whether fraud is involved or not, it seems a very sad state of affairs that in a rapidly aging nation, there should be senior citizens whose whereabouts are only tracked down and known years after they have died. Who wants that kind of long life expectancy?