Japanese people have been dying alone and rotting for weeks in their homes, a sad trend that has now been the fate of thousands.
Kodokushi, or “dying alone,” is a gripping problem in Japan.
In a country where 27.7% of the population is above 65 and many in their younger years choose to lead single lives, such is a likely consequence.
One of the latest victims is a man believed to be in his 50s. Hidemitsu Ohshima, attending to the decomposing body, covered himself in a white protective suit.
The man had been there for three weeks. As he lifted the mattress drenched in the corpse’s bodily fluids, Ohshima was greeted by a swarm of insects.
“Ugh, this is serious.” the cleaner told the AFP (via Japan Today). “You wear protective suits to defend yourself from bugs that may or may not be carrying diseases.”
Experts estimate that 30,000 die alone each year. To them, kodokushi is worsened by a combination of cultural, demographic and social issues unique to Japan.
Katsuhiko Fujimori, chief research associate at the Mizuho Information and Research Institute, acknowledged key changes:
“In Japan, family has long served as the strong foundation of social support of all kinds. But now things are changing with the rise of single people and the size of the family becoming smaller.”
Fujimori stated facts. Single-occupancy households in Japan have increased more than two-fold in the last 30 years — now 14.5% of the entire population.
Yet other elderly Japanese who now live alone once had families. Among them is Chieko Ito, a resident of housing complex, who lost her husband and daughter.
Around 6 every night, Ito closes the paper screen in her window. She slides them back open after waking up at 5:40 a.m.
The screen should tell if she’s still alive. She had asked her neighbor, Toyoko Sakai, to look after her.
Ito told The New York Times:
“Everybody around me has died, one after another, and I’m the only one left. But when I think about death, I’m afraid.”
For now, Fujimori believes that increasing taxes to provide better social care for older people and financial aid for childcare will help lessen incidences of kodokushi.
“If family can no longer play the roles it has been playing, society must build a framework that responds to that need. If nothing is done, we’ll see more solitary deaths.”