Japan: They call it lonely deaths

Will more people die alone without anybody knowing that for many days?

Question:

1. Is this a real problem and Japanese society should be worried?

2. In general how the Japanese society perceives elderly and less successful people?

Answers:

Yumi Hashizume, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tsukuba

1. Recall the number of people who committed suicide are increasing around 33,000 in 2011 and Japanese society should be worried the real problem and establish cultural acceptable ways for the solution. Besides the suicide, “Koritsu-shi (lonely death)” has been happening in “Muen-shakai(society where neglect people each other)” in contemporary Japanese society.

Two major socio-cultural and historical values and Japanese attitudinal behaviors, of “not bothering others as for keeping harmony of the group where they belong to” and “protecting privacy of ones household matters” allow people complaining others of ones serious situation as a neutral level, but not telling the truth such as “having found no solution and being in treat difficulty”. Ongoing formal services or programs for those people in need have been focused on “consultation ON the REQUEST” and “providing information”. Being NOT based on their sensitive attitudes or values, few people access to the services. Moreover, one should pay attention on the most is the vulnerable Japanese social security system that reinforce the policies have been geared toward the promotion of self-care for people need care.

2. As I described in your question 1., people need to apply to the service provider when they want to use the public services. There a “minsei-i-in (a local welfare commissioner)”, which is an entrusted position by municipal government to neighborhood community is to catch the people in need.

Masaki Ichinose, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Tokyo

1. Yes, this is a emergent, real problem in Japanese society indeed. Particularly, this problem has become more serious since 3.11 (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plants accident). In general, a number of people who live alone are increasing especially in urban areas, so that they are likely to die alone without anybody knowing that for many days. It’s terribly sad!

2. Postmen or salesladies are expected to notice people who live alone. And, of course, the government supplies some social welfare services. However, it not enough at all. Unfortunately, we haven’t found any decisive solution. This unhappy trend was accelerated by 3.11, as there are many who lost their family.

John Creighton Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of Michigan, Visiting Scholar, Institute of Gerontology, Tokyo University

1. Well, yes, older people living alone is a real problem, as was clear in Paris and Chicago when so many older people died in heat waves.  The number of live-alones is increasing, but not that rapidly–something like 10% of 65+ in 1985, over 15% now.  And the percentage is surely lower than in most other OECD countries.  I don’t think loneliness, dying alone, and other problems of older people living alone is more of a problem in Japan than elsewhere.  On the other hand, people here are sensitive about it.  It fits into the prevailing narrative of social breakdown that is very popular.

2. Here too I don’t think it is much different than elsewhere.  Actually Japanese older people are in a better position relative to the general population than in many other countries.

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