Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this, getting more and more absentminded with the passing years. Couldn’t even remember the word ‘amnesia’ in a crossword puzzle. Had to sleep on it. The local Papas (village priest) has been around and blest our house, every room, with holy water, holy basil, and holy crucifix. No incense though which is a pity as I am particularly fond of the scent of incense. I missed it all as it was siesta time when he came and I was fast asleep so my bedroom missed out as well. Evidently he was doing the other three houses up our lane and asked Chris if he would like ours done to which Chris said yes. I wonder where he got fresh basil from this time of year.
Talking of age and the passing years, twice now I have had a form from the Department of Pensions and Social Security to be filled in and witnessed to the fact that I am still alive. According to statistics a third of Japanese over 65 now live alone. Many also die alone - a modern phenomenon that has inspired the word kodokushi, or lonely death. It was on a hot summer's day that police in Japan found the mummified corpse of a man - still lying in the bed where he had died 30 years earlier. At 111 years old, he was believed to be Japan's oldest man. His 81-year-old daughter had hidden his death and pocketed more than 9m yen ($106,000; £68,000) in pension payments, police said. Suspicions aroused, local governments sent out teams to check on their elderly residents. When officials visited the home of Tokyo's reputed oldest woman, Fusa Furuya, aged 113, they discovered that she had not been seen by her daughter since the 1980s. Japan's media has delivered a day-by-day count of the missing, prompting much national hand-wringing. One woman who - if alive - would be 125 years old, was found to have been registered as living in a park in Kobe city. The register in Yamaguchi prefecture indicated one of its residents was alive and kicking at 186 years old. The nationwide hunt culminated with the Justice Ministry reporting more than 230,000 "missing" centenarians - a revelation that sent the country, which traditionally venerates its elderly, into collective shock.
The Justice Ministry said some of those unaccounted for might have died as long ago as World War II, with their deaths going unreported amid the post-war turmoil. Others might have emigrated without reporting their status to the local authorities, or relatives might simply not have reported their deaths. The resident registry, which is based on census data and information on pensions and other welfare benefits, gives a far more accurate picture. Those figures, released last week by the Health Ministry, recorded 44,449 living citizens aged 100 or more. It was unable to account for about 400 people - a troubling figure for a society that prides itself on its commitment to its most senior citizens.
"The situation shows the existence of lonely people who have no family to turn to and whose ties with those around them have been severed," a newspaper said. The case of the missing centenarians indicates a breakdown in social cohesion - in the family and the wider community, says analyst Jeff Kingston. It used to be that parents would live with their children and grandchildren but the three-generation family is becoming an anachronism. Japan is growing older as its population declines. It now has the world's highest proportion of elderly with more than 20% of the population aged over 65. By 2050 this figure will be close to 40%. It’s happening worldwide of course.

There are huge waiting lists for public care homes, but many would rather live a solitary life than be institutionalised. This social exclusion has driven up suicide rates and crime among the elderly. Petty crimes such as shoplifting have soared in the last decade - out of economic necessity for some; in other cases as a means of seeking attention - albeit negative. But perhaps the most surprising element of this story is some families deliberately hiding the deaths of elderly relatives in order to claim their pensions. Japan's health minister has suggested face-to-face meetings with all citizens over 110 years old to verify their vitality. As I approach my 80th birthday I wonder how soon it will be before I receive another form from the UK wanting to verify I am still in the land of the living.

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