Japan’s “Lonely Deaths”

❝ There was a putrid smell emanating from the apartment. There was an obvious brown stain on the futon where the body had been. The futon, the clothes, the newspapers and horse-racing stubs were covered with maggots and flies.

Still, if the man had died in the summer and rotted for months in the sweltering heat, instead of drying to a shrivel as winter approached, it could have been much worse.

“I’d say this is a four out of 10,” said Akira Fujita, leader of the crew from Next, a company that specializes in cleaning up after “lonely deaths” — where people lie dead in their apartments for long periods before being discovered.

❝ Every country has cases where elderly people die alone, but none experiences it quite like Japan, home to the world’s fastest-aging population. More than a quarter of the population is over 65, a figure set to rise to 40 percent by 2050.

Lonely-death statistics are hard to come by — the central government doesn’t collect them — but regional figures show a sharp increase over the past decade. NLI Research Institute, a Tokyo think tank, estimates that about 30,000 people nationwide die this way each year.

❝ As the number of lonely deaths has grown, so too has the lonely-death-cleanup industry. Numerous firms offer this kind of service, and insurance companies have started selling policies to protect landlords if their tenants die inside their properties. The plans cover the cost of cleaning the apartment and compensate for loss of rent. Some will even pay for a purifying ritual in the apartment once the work is done.

RTFA. I have to wonder how healthier lifestyles contribute to this phenomenon, country by country. I’ve outlived many of my peers – especially within my immediate family.

Until I met the love of my life 26 years ago, I had consciously, reflectively, given up on anything other than living alone the rest of my life. It wasn’t an unhappy choice – just realistic for an old geek and activist.

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