Sunday, September 05, 2010

Japan's Missing Centenarians

In a country famous for its long life expectancy, the dark side of longevity is emerging.

Many of Japan's oldest people, 100 years old or older, are missing.

People are officially registered as alive until proven otherwise, and with Japan's Byzantine family register system and the limited investigative powers of local governments, it is often not possible to determine if somebody is dead or alive.

At last count there were over 350 missing centenarians.

The growing scandal around the true fate of Japan's centenarians began in July when a visit by ward officials to the house of Sogen Kato, a Tokyo man believed to be 111, led to a police search of the house which revealed his mummified remains in his bed.

According to family members, about 30 years ago he had declared he wanted to become a 'living Buddha' and had retired into his room. His family had not heard from him since.

A possible explanation for the apparent lack of interest on the part of the family in the well-being of their elderly member may be related to the fact that they were drawing on pension funds that continued to be directed their way, to the tune of over 110 thousand dollars over the decades.

Kato's family are now under investigation.

No kidding.

The discovery led local government officials to search for and generally attempt to verify the existence of centenarians all over Japan.

Since then there have been nightly reports on the drama. The remains of a Tokyo woman believed to be 104 were found stuffed into her son's backpack, where they had been for more than a decade. Rumours abound of sticking grandma in the freezer so her pension can be collected.

Local media are blaming the false records of living centenarians on sloppy bureaucratic paperwork.

Among other centenarians still registered as living are a 186-year-old man in Yamaguchi prefecture.

Officials said: 'He may be dead.'

Indeed. Love the Japanese penchant for caution. After all, he may be alive, which would make him 70 years older than the second oldest living human, as old as Japan's last shogun.

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