Alienation Is Killing Americans and JapanesePosted: June 4, 2016 | |
Amos Zeeburg writes: The stories have become all too familiar in Japan, though people often do their best to ignore them. An elderly or middle-aged person, usually a man, is found dead, at home in his apartment, frequently right in his bed. It has been days, weeks, or even months since he has had contact with another human being. Often the discovery is made by a landlord frustrated at not receiving a rent payment or a neighbor who notices an unpleasant smell. The deceased has almost no connections with the world around him: no job, no relationships with neighbors, no spouse or children who care to be in contact. He has little desire to take care of his home, his relationships, his health. “The majority of lonely deaths are people who are kind of messy,” Taichi Yoshida, who runs a moving company that often cleans out apartments where people are discovered long after they die, told Time magazine. “It’s the person who, when they take something out, they don’t put it back; when something breaks, they don’t fix it; when a relationship falls apart, they don’t repair it.”
These lonely deaths are called kodokushi. Each one passes without much notice, but the phenomenon is frequent enough to be widely known. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare reported there were 3,700 “unaccompanied deaths” in Japan in 2013, but some researchers estimate that because of significant under-counting, the true figure is closer to 30,000. In any case, the frequency of kodokushi has been on the rise since they emerged in the 1980s.
The increase seems to be associated with deep social changes in the country, particularly the breakdown of the traditional multigenerational Japanese family. In 1960, about 80 percent of elderly Japanese lived with a child; since then that number has split in half. Combined with the fast, well-known aging of the population—today about one in five Japanese people is over 65; that number is projected to grow to one in three by 2030—that leaves a lot of seniors adrift. Already almost a quarter of Japanese men and a tenth of Japanese women over age 60 say there is not a single person they could rely on in difficult times. “It’s like a microcosm of the aging society in Japan,” says a Japanese official. “It’s something no one had anticipated a decade ago.”
The country’s 25-year-long economic doldrums is also a factor. Many men have lost jobs, been forced to retire early, or faced other financial problems, depressing their social standing and making it harder just to get by. Money woes are particularly hard for the generation of Japanese men who came of age when the economy was booming, who invested so much of themselves in their work, forsaking the personal relationships, even with their own children, that could otherwise keep them engaged as they age….(read more)
Amos Zeeberg is a freelance science journalist soon relocating to Tokyo. Follow him on Twitter @settostun.
The edited lead photograph is courtesy of Trung Kaching via Flickr.