Japan has a people problem.  An old people problem.  The elderly have gone missing.  Actually, the missing people are dead.  Japan has quickly become younger as their infamous “we live forever” meme has been shattered before their national eye.

The trouble started for Japan when the government finally decided to start counting their really old citizens — and the state was shocked to discover most of their “oldest living” were either dead or “missing.”

TOKYO — Japan has long boasted of having many of the world’s oldest people — testament, many here say, to a society with a superior diet and a commitment to its elderly that is unrivaled in the West.

That was before the police found the body of a man thought to be one of Japan’s oldest, at 111 years, mummified in his bed, dead for more than three decades. His daughter, now 81, hid his death to continue collecting his monthly pension payments, the police said.

Alarmed, local governments began sending teams to check on other elderly residents. What they found so far has been anything but encouraging.

A woman thought to be Tokyo’s oldest, who would be 113, was last seen in the 1980s. Another woman, who would be the oldest in the world at 125, is also missing, and probably has been for a long time. When city officials tried to visit her at her registered address, they discovered that the site had been turned into a city park, in 1981.

To date, the authorities have been unable to find more than 281 Japanese who had been listed in records as 100 years old or older. Facing a growing public outcry, the country’s health minister, Akira Nagatsuma, said officials would meet with every person listed as 110 or older to verify that they are alive; Tokyo officials made the same promise for the 3,000 or so residents listed as 100 and up.

I wonder how long Japan suspected their old people were not really alive — but were too frightened to do an official, public, investigation — because the private reality of the deaths would be too bruising to a national ego bred and bound by healthy eating and culturally valuing age over beauty while honoring wisdom over youth?

5 Comments

  1. That’s so strange, David. I am reminded of the many Japanese businessmen who got laid off in the ’90s and then just would continue getting dressed for work every morning and then go to a park and read the news rather than change their routine.