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Elderly and missing
August 14, 2010 9:25 PM   Subscribe

“Living until 150 years old is impossible in the natural world,” said Akira Nemoto, director of the elderly services section of the Adachi ward office. “But it is not impossible in the world of Japanese public administration.” Up until the end of July, no one knew how many people over the age of 100 were missing in Japan. Now, officials are scrambling to check on the elderly.

Beginning at the end of July, with the discovery of the mummified remains of Sogen Kato. Officials had intended to present Kato with a certificate naming him the oldest man in Tokyo's Adachi Ward. The only problem? He died roughly 30 years ago after closing himself in his room.

Since then, officials from nearly every prefecture have tried to make contact with Japan's large population of centenarians. The latest count is 281 missing people over the age of 100. In many cases, the families of the missing have no idea where they've gone. Fraud, in terms of collecting pension payments of the missing, is suspected in many of the cases.
posted by Ghidorah (57 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
“Living until 150 years old is impossible in the natural world,"

Prometheus is rolling in his grave.
posted by Askiba at 9:29 PM on August 14, 2010


"After about 10 days (from the time Kato shut himself in the room), it started to smell. I was concerned and went into the room two years later, and saw my father-in-law's skull," the son-in-law was quoted as telling police.

I've always known the Japanese were extremely deliberate in their actions but damn.
posted by Azazel Fel at 10:08 PM on August 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


After about 10 days (from the time Kato shut himself in the room), it started to smell. I was concerned and went into the room two years later

Damn, and I thought I was bad about the whole 'not thinking about things that, in retrospect, I should've taken care of immediately' thing. I guess 'better late than never' doesn't really cut it here.
posted by dubusadus at 10:10 PM on August 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wonder if it's actually physically impossible to live to 150. I think it's probably possible.
posted by delmoi at 10:13 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I had a nickel for every time a comment meta-illustrates the exact problems that I'm trying to address, I'd be a few dollars richer and I'd probably learn not to embarrass myself as much.
posted by dubusadus at 10:15 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


He's just sleeping.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:24 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Messed up.

Does anyone know anything about mummification? Is it really accurate to say that his corpse was mummified? I always thought that mummification could only be accomplished through specific circumstances. Seems like media-speak for rotted corpse. Anyone?
posted by IvoShandor at 10:28 PM on August 14, 2010


if I ain't dead already
ooh girl you know the reason why
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:31 PM on August 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think it's pretty bad when the Guinness Book of World Records has more through verification protocols than your health ministry does.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:31 PM on August 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


*thorough*

Just like my proofreading.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:32 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


If your diet is right before death and you starve, a mummified corpse can result without any post-mortem interference.
posted by kenko at 10:32 PM on August 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I saw the quote about waiting two years and was kind of stunned by it. On the news here, they have reports of family members (daughters and sons) of the missing saying that they don't know where their parent is, and they honestly don't seem all that concerned. It's outright bizarre how this has happened, and the numbers just keep growing. A lot of these cases also involve the family continuing to receive the missing/dead family member's pension, which turns it into fraud, at the very least.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:47 PM on August 14, 2010


This story fails to disprove the assertion that Japan is fractally weird.
posted by speedo at 10:51 PM on August 14, 2010


This story fails to disprove the assertion that Japan is fractally weird.

Your comment fails to disprove the assertion that Japan, more often than many other equally deserving nations (the US for example), is easily (and lazily) singled out as being particularly weird.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:01 PM on August 14, 2010 [12 favorites]


As per kenko's comment above, the "mummified remains" link mentions the deceased saying that he wanted to be "a living Buddha". I also think this could be connected with deliberate self-mummification, also known as sokushinbutsu, in which one purges and poisons oneself over a long period, hoping to end up a miraculously un-decomposed corpse.

The family not disturbing the body for years would kind of fit, here. Even assuming only the old guy himself was nutty enough to want to do this, a combination of respect for one's elders and lack of desire to get mixed up with some craziness involving a corpse could have kept the whole family away from that sealed room for all that time.
posted by dansdata at 12:00 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


speedo: "This story fails to disprove the assertion that Japan is fractally weird."

Fractally weird????

Huh?
posted by Some1 at 12:28 AM on August 15, 2010


A lot of these cases also involve the family continuing to receive the missing/dead family member's pension

That's what I keep seeing when stories like that come up, which makes them a whole lot less mysterious.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:33 AM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Japan is ... different.

People don't realize, this was a culture that developed in absolute aggressive isolation from the rest of the world. It was really only opened up to other cultures in the 1800s, and even then it took an act of military force projection ("gunboat diplomacy") to achieve that.

Every place has its own thing going on, yes. But Japan is just...Japan. It's different.
posted by effugas at 12:48 AM on August 15, 2010


Fractally weird

Weird no matter at what level you look at it.
posted by DreamerFi at 12:48 AM on August 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


I predict a lot of people will be going to jail in the near future.
posted by bwg at 1:20 AM on August 15, 2010


People don't realize, this was a culture that developed in absolute aggressive isolation from the rest of the world.

Um, a lot of people realize this. Anyone with a whit's worth of knowledge of the history of Japan knows exactly this.

But Japan is just...Japan.

A round of applause for your brilliant insight there. may I subscribe to your newsletter?

It's different.

Yeah, so is Uganda. Albania. China. Finland. Peru. Continually casting Japan as the ultimate "Other", the ultimate inscrutable, the utterly unique... it's a tired idea that does you nor anyone else any good. It doesn't advance anyone's knowledge or understanding or perception of Japan. It's just the same old tired, lazy, intellectually hobbled thinking.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:46 AM on August 15, 2010 [28 favorites]



Um, a lot of people realize this. Anyone with a whit's worth of knowledge of the history of Japan knows exactly this.


Sakoku only lasted a bit over 200 years and even then there was no absolute agressive isolation.
posted by the cuban at 2:20 AM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Seconding flapjax. It's weird because all you see (or choose to see) is the weird parts posted. I didn't post this out of a "Japan is weird" urge, I just posted it because this is an ongoing fuckup that just happens to be taking place where I live. Sort of a 'post what you know' situation.

Yes, there are strange things here. Yes people occasionally do weird things. They do them everywhere else, too. There are things in America that Japanese people find downright bizarre, and as much as I like pork, the concept of blood sausage (from whichever european cuisine you'd like to single out) is just squicky.

As for Japan? I commute. I pay taxes. I water my lawn (it's a little smaller than the word lawn usually implies). I shop for groceries, I take out the garbage. I've never dealt with a giant monster attack, I've never bought panties from a vending machine, and I've never had to fight off ninja while on the shinkansen. Japan? It's mundane. It's everyday. From time to time, it's downright boring.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:24 AM on August 15, 2010 [15 favorites]


"This story fails to disprove the assertion that Japan is fractally weird."

I didn't see anything weirder or more depressing than what you get walking down the hall of a US nursing home, looking through the doors into the rooms of all the people who are nothing more than breathing shells and whose families haven't really visited them in years. The story says there is more social stigma in Japan for putting your elderly relatives into a care ("care?") facility, so it's not all that surprising that what goes on quite a bit in nursing homes in the US -- the benign neglect of elderly relatives -- goes on behind closed doors in private homes in Japan.
posted by frobozz at 2:46 AM on August 15, 2010 [9 favorites]


As for Japan? I commute. I pay taxes. I water my lawn (it's a little smaller than the word lawn usually implies). I shop for groceries, I take out the garbage. I've never dealt with a giant monster attack, I've never bought panties from a vending machine, and I've never had to fight off ninja while on the shinkansen. Japan? It's mundane. It's everyday. From time to time, it's downright boring.

I'll second this -- everyday life here is not that much different than living anywhere else. The reason Japan is singled out so often in the West is that for over fifty years it was been the only non-Western, modern, industrialized country in the world and has thus been held up as a kind of parallel universe.

The real story behind the "missing centenarians" is pretty simple when you get down to it: bureaucratic incompetence. In Japan, you're required to register in the municipality in which you live, so theoretically local government knows how many people live where. In reality, people fail to re-register when they move and no one checks up on them, one government department doesn't communicate information to another, or family members turn away people sent to check up on elderly residents. Multiply this across hundreds of localities in a country with the world's longest average lifespan and throw in a widespread (though increasingly outdated) belief in taking care of one's elders and you can see why this is news here.

In contrast, this kind of situation this would most likely never happen in the West (in particular the US), for the simple reason that government primarily cares where you are for the purpose of taxing you appropriately. In Japan, though, knowing who is where is considered one of the main responsibilities of local government and the police for the maintenance of a functioning society, and citizens generally cooperate. When that unwritten social contract breaks down on a large scale, it's noteworthy.
posted by armage at 4:09 AM on August 15, 2010


At least those old people aren't out driving.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:14 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if it's actually physically impossible to live to 150. I think it's probably possible.

Only Jerry Lewis.

And maybe Abe Vigoda.
posted by armage at 4:16 AM on August 15, 2010


At least those old people aren't out driving.

Apparently there are (as of 2005) at least five people over the age of 100 with licenses—the oldest is 105—and that doesn't include the ones driving illegally.
posted by armage at 4:23 AM on August 15, 2010


The Kato story got really weird for me when I realized that the rest of the family was still living in the house. That's kind of twitchy-making. I would be disturbed at knowingly living in the same house as a corpse. Of course, I expect that after 30 years, you'd get kind of used to it.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:00 AM on August 15, 2010


armage: "In contrast, this kind of situation this would most likely never happen in the West (in particular the US), for the simple reason that government primarily cares where you are for the purpose of taxing you appropriately. In Japan, though, knowing who is where is considered one of the main responsibilities of local government and the police for the maintenance of a functioning society, and citizens generally cooperate. When that unwritten social contract breaks down on a large scale, it's noteworthy."

This is silly. This has happened numerous times in the West, and in the US.
posted by alexei at 5:16 AM on August 15, 2010


This has happened numerous times in the West, and in the US.

Absolutely. Also down at the old Bates place...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:28 AM on August 15, 2010


The idea of these old people just getting lost is going to bother me for a long time. I'm imagining my grandmother slowly shuffling down the street wondering how the hallway got so long. Maybe stopping at a bench to rest for a moment which stretches into hours. Passersby walking on because, hey, are you going to the guy who disturbs a nonagenarian's nap? Eeeh...

I'm actually less disturbed by the guy who kept track of his father the whole time through and then kept collecting the man's pension afterward. Creepy and disrespectful, but at least he knew the hour of his father's death.
posted by d. z. wang at 5:51 AM on August 15, 2010


1. impenetrable bureaucracy
2. reverence for elders
3. lucrative pension checks
4. PROFIT!!
posted by briank at 6:08 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Japan is so weird. That place where two buddies of a dead man wheeled his corpse to a check cashing store and attempted to cash in his pension.

Oh wait, that was Manhattan.
posted by piratebowling at 7:04 AM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Only Jerry Lewis.

And maybe Abe Vigoda.


You forgot Dick Clark!

I'd like to see a comparative study tracking down the over-100s here in the US. I'd be willing to bet that there quite a few "missing" elders here as well.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:12 AM on August 15, 2010


I wonder if it's actually physically impossible to live to 150. I think it's probably possible

It's entirely possible. He's halfway there and still thinks he's 25.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:50 AM on August 15, 2010


Some1:

“This was just the executive summary of a weird life that Randy only learned about in bits and pieces as the years went on. Later, he was to decide that Andrew’s life had been fractally weird. That is, you could take any small piece of it and examine it in detail and it, in and of itself, would turn out to be just as complicated and weird as the whole thing in its entirety.”

- Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:50 AM on August 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


...and throw in a widespread (though increasingly outdated) belief in taking care of one's elders and you can see why this is news here.

I'm having a little bit of trouble parsing that. Do you mean that the belief that the elderly should be taken care of is becoming outdated in Japan? Or that their methods of taking care of the elderly are outdated and preventing the elderly to be properly taken care of?
posted by griphus at 9:22 AM on August 15, 2010


I read it as the latter, griphus. In Japan, children are supposed to take care of their parents, and institutional care is forwned upon. Given realities of rising life expectancies (so that the children are themselves often elderly), tight living spaces, and smaller families, that means that people are often faced with social expectations that they can't easily meet. If you and your spouse are in your mid-70s, taking care of two or three 90-something parents in your tiny Tokyo apartment might be a lot to expect.
posted by craichead at 10:06 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


From kenko's link about self-mummification:
For 1,000 days (a little less than three years) the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another thousand days and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls.

This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and most importantly, it made the body too poisonous to be eaten by maggots. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive.

When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed. After the tomb was sealed, the other monks in the temple would wait another 1,000 days, and open the tomb to see if the mummification was successful.
1,000 days is 2.7 years, so it would make sense for the family to wait that long before checking on him if this was the way he intended to die.
posted by heatherann at 10:33 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


He's just sleeping.

He's pining for fjords.
posted by The Bellman at 11:03 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


The fjords. Must preview before I post.
posted by The Bellman at 11:04 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


IvoShandor:Seems like media-speak for rotted corpse. Anyone?

I've known circumstances where city-animals (e,g, rats) have gotten themselves jammed into insufferable circumstances, only to be discovered behind the sheetrock, deades later.

'Mummified' is a loose way of referencing it; Dessicated is probably the best way to refer to it, since no organs were extracted and nothing embalmed.
posted by vhsiv at 11:17 AM on August 15, 2010


Also, I suspect a new Bates Motel vibe to infect the next wave of J-Horror films.
posted by vhsiv at 11:35 AM on August 15, 2010


suggested reading
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 12:07 PM on August 15, 2010


I've never dealt with a giant monster attack

BULL. SHIT. There are literally mountains of video evidence that you have personally fought with Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan just to name a few.
posted by Kirk Grim at 2:02 PM on August 15, 2010 [10 favorites]


Kirk Grim, wow. Well done.

But we weren't really fighting. You know how they use slow motion footage of dogs playing to make it look like they're fighting? Same thing. It's all in slow motion. We're really playing patty cake.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:22 PM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is silly. This has happened numerous times in the West, and in the US.

Your links refer to isolated instances of people living with bodies in their house. I was referring instead to the widespread failure by government to keep track of the elderly despite it being their legal and moral obligation to do so here in Japan.

Such a failure would just not occur in the West, IMO, because of the different role that government plays in the private lives of citizens. How would you feel if, when you moved into a new town, the police came by to see who you were? Or if you were required to register your address and other personal information with your municipality, regardless of whether you were receiving any services from them? That's the law in Japan, and it's generally accepted as a good thing here -- but when it breaks down, it's noteworthy.

I'm having a little bit of trouble parsing that. Do you mean that the belief that the elderly should be taken care of is becoming outdated in Japan? Or that their methods of taking care of the elderly are outdated and preventing the elderly to be properly taken care of?

The latter, as craichead said. The idea of providing for one's parents when they can't take care of themselves is pervasive, but in reality you have large numbers of elderly living (and dying) alone, with apparently no family who cares about them. That's shocking to Japanese, but it will only get worse as the population ages.
posted by armage at 4:02 PM on August 15, 2010


To further what armage is saying, there's also just not enough elderly care. They've been talking about it for years, about how many elderly there are, but there really just aren't enough nursing homes available, and not nearly enough people to staff the ones that are needed. The situation is bad enough that Japan is expanding its program to hire foreign nurses (mostly from Indonesia), but as in most things to do with foreigners, they're setting the bar to admission ridiculously high, and few of the candidates have managed to pass.

It is a big problem, and it's only going to get worse. The funny thing is, with rampant under-employment among young Japanese (partly through choice and parents allowing adult children to stay at home well into their 20's and 30's), taking care of the elderly should be a huge area for new jobs, but it seems to be becoming one of the jobs that Japanese people would rather hire foreigners for.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:55 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anyone reminded of "A Rose for Emily"?

The American South is weird (of course, the story is fiction).
posted by bad grammar at 6:12 PM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what I find more unsettling - the living with a corpse part or not knowing where your parent/s are. It just blows my mind and I'm reminded of the old joke "My mother turned seventy and started walking two miles a day. Now she's 85 and we don't know where the hell she is." Jesus.
posted by ninazer0 at 11:34 PM on August 15, 2010


From time to time, it's downright boring.

But then ninjas come, right? Or Totoro?

Right?

ohgodpleasesayyes
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:53 AM on August 16, 2010


Sadly, no. I have (once) seen a tanuki in the wild. It did not, however, change shape, perform magic, or behave mischeviously.

And occasionally a hunter friend of mine brings over boar meat. That's pretty fun.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:16 AM on August 16, 2010


I saw this story while traveling in the Central Japan region. Our hosts, family friends of my partner, turned on the news for us, and switched on the English dubbing. I watched this story with an American somewhere in an NHK office giving a deadpan live translation of the story, which only made it more horrific and surreal.
posted by gc at 7:24 AM on August 16, 2010


aside from overwhelming moral reasons, there are very good practical reasons why one shouldn't abandon their aged relatives
posted by maus at 1:25 PM on August 16, 2010


The remains of a Japanese woman have been found in a backpack, in the latest gruesome discovery by investigators searching for missing old people.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:14 AM on August 20, 2010


I wonder how many of mom's monthly pension cheques would have been needed to cover a humble funeral?
posted by Meatbomb at 7:28 AM on August 20, 2010


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