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Kodokushi, or “lonely deaths” a Japanese phenomenon that came about in the 1980s, is now growing increasingly common. Last month, BBC News reported the discovery of three bodies that were left to decompose for almost two months in an apartment in Saitama, north of Tokyo. According to statistics from the city’s Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health, more than 2,200 people over 65 have died lonely deaths in 2008.
Japan with its remarkably high living standards, has failed to eliminate the increasing number of lonely deaths. The deaths of the unemployed and old are due to poverty, culture or shame, and reluctance to ask for help from welfare authorities. According to Times World, most deaths frequently involve men in their 50s and senior citizens. Japan’s elderly population is expected to reach a point where one in three people is over the age of 65.
“Many poor people are invisible, particularly in urban areas. So many people are isolated nowadays. In general, people are reluctant to get involved in their neighbor’s private affairs.” – Hisashi Hirayama, a professor at Tokyo University of Social Welfare.
The Guardian reported that the three bodies found are those of a couple in their 60s and their son in his 30s, after the building’s owner said that he could not contact them. Some of their neighbors did not know that their apartment was occupied. Even though the cause of death is yet to be known, most officials believe that they must have either starved to death or committed suicide.
Local news sources reported that the family was too ashamed to admit they needed financial assistance; to the extent that, when asked by their landlord’s firm, the wife said that her son was working and her husband was unable to do so, since he was suffering from chronic back pain.
Mr. Hirayama told ABC News that “People are falling through the cracks; help is available but you must reach out yourself. People are hesitant to do that because of pride.”
According to the Ministry of health, labor, and welfare, more than 700 people have died of hunger since 2000. The Guardian also reported that, in Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, two sisters in their 40s, an 84 year-old man and his wife were found dead in their apartments.
“This is not something you’d expect in a developed country like Japan, but people are struggling to find jobs.” Norimichi Goishi of the Tokyo Institute for Municipal Research told ABC News.