Tangent: Japan’s Centenarians are missing: Registry systems that ignore NJ residents are also registering long-dead Japanese as alive


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Hi Blog. As a tangent (but a very interesting one) is the biggest news story the past few days in Japan; Japan has some very old people who have gone missing or are long dead, but are still registered as living pensioners.

This of course calls into question two things:

1) The oft-cited claim that Japanese live longest in the world. With actually-dead people nudging up the average, and the possibility that the oldest people are only that way because nobody has checked on them in thirty years, this source of national pride has given way to questions of the efficacy of Japan’s Kokusei Chousa (National Census) system, which has somehow missed recording these people for decades (or in all probability, enabled horrific scams of “baachan in a freezer” while her pensions keep getting collected).

and 2) (and this is why it’s tangentially related to Debito.org), it calls into question the efficacy of the Juuminhyou and Koseki systems too. Although any formal registry system might miss people who are not being noticed or are being deliberately hidden, it’s funny to find a centarian registered as living at a car park. But it’s not funny when you realize that taxpaying NJ are not registered as “spouse” on the Koseki Family Registry system, or even as visible residents and family under the Juuminhyou Residency Certificate system. Meanwhile, long-dead people are, just because they’re Japanese. It’s screwy. It’s an angle that has not been covered in the debate on this. But it oughta be.

Read on for the first article I read on this issue. If you see any more that cover other important angles, send them on with links, thanks. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Tokyo’s oldest listed person, age 113, is missing
Associated Press August 3, 2010


TOKYO (AP) — A 113-year-old woman listed as Tokyo’s oldest person is missing, officials said Tuesday, days after the city’s oldest man was found dead and mummified.

Fusa Furuya, born in July 1897, does not live at the address in the Japanese capital where she is registered and her whereabouts are unknown, Tokyo Suginami ward official Hiroshi Sugimoto said.

Her disappearance surfaced just days after the shocking discovery last week that Tokyo’s oldest man, who would have been 111 years old, had actually been dead for decades.

Officials said that they had not personally contacted the two oldest people for decades, despite their listing as the longest-living in the city. They apparently found out that the man was dead, and Furuya missing, when they began updating their records ahead of a holiday in honor of the elderly that is to be observed next month.

Officials visited Furuya’s apartment last Friday, but her 79-year-old daughter said she has never lived there.

The daughter, whose name was not disclosed, told officials she was not aware of her mother’s registration at that address and said she thought her mother was just outside Tokyo with her younger brother, with whom she has lost touch.

But when officials checked that address they found a vacant lot.
Officials are also looking for a 106-year-old man who is missing in Nagoya, central Japan, Kyodo News agency reported. The Asahi newspaper said three more centenarians were unaccounted for.

The number of centenarians in Japan has been rising for decades.
Japan has 40,399 people aged 100 or older, including 4,800 in Tokyo, according to an annual health ministry report last year marking a Sept. 21 holiday honoring the elderly. Each centenarian receives a letter and a gift from a local government office — usually by mail.

In the earlier case, police are investigating the family of the man found dead and mummified on suspicion of abandonment and swindling his pension money. Sogen Kato is believed to have died 32 years ago after he had retreated to his bedroom, saying he wanted to be a living Buddha.

Health and Welfare Minister Akira Nagatsuma has urged officials to find a better way to monitor centenarians, but local officials say it is hard to keep track because their families are often reluctant to receive official visits.

Many also send their elderly relatives to nursing homes without doing the proper paperwork.
AP-ES-08-03-10 0506EDT

20 comments on “Tangent: Japan’s Centenarians are missing: Registry systems that ignore NJ residents are also registering long-dead Japanese as alive

  • I just cannot understand how old centenarian Japanese cannot be track down as perfect and efficiently as we all NJ are? Too much for the awesome Japanese bureaucracy! Some laws appear to be applied more relaxedly depending who you are.

  • Speaking of the aging population…I found this article funny.

    Man, 63, declared dead by kin in ’95 arrested in burglary

    A 63-year-old man who was declared dead 15 years ago was arrested for theft last month, police sources said Thursday.

    Masaharu Munekata from Kagoshima Prefecture, who is suspected of breaking into a flower shop in Kunitachi, Tokyo, in July, and stealing ¥200,000 in cash, was declared dead as of Oct. 17, 1995, by a family court at the request of his family.

    “As far as I remember, I haven’t contacted my family since 1994 or 1995,” Munekata was quoted as telling investigators. He also claimed he did not know he had been declared dead.

    The Civil Code allows a family court to make an adjudication of disappearance if it is not clear whether an absent person is dead or alive for seven years. The family court can rescind the decision if the person is confirmed alive, according to the law.

    Munekata told investigators he has committed nearly 200 thefts in Tokyo and Tochigi, Saitama and Chiba prefectures since 2000, and that he does not want the police to tell his relatives of his arrest, the sources said.

  • @Peter McArthur:
    I know your being cynical, but what this might mean is the population decline that has been projected may actually come far sooner than later if investigations into these incidents find a lot of dead people still “on the books.”

    But I do love how this will mostly likely bring to light fallacies and blunders in the census taking system. Maybe…just maybe…NJ residents not being counted will come to light as well.

  • The Japan Times states that there were over 30,000 centurians in Japan as of 2008, and trending higher. So the 57 unaccounted for as of yesterday are still less than 0.2% of the total number, hardly enough to dent any previous population simulations.

    — Not if those centurians get loose and start stabbing people willy-nilly with their swords!

    (sorry, couldn’t resist. it’s summer) 😉

  • jjobseeker says:


    Well, with news sources now asking the question of how bad the situation might be if they investigated records for ages 80 and up, 70 and up, etc., dead people “on the books” may turn out to be a bigger problem than imagined. We are talking about the country that lost the pension records of 5 million people.

  • Quote:”– Not if those centurians get loose and start stabbing people willy-nilly with their swords!

    (sorry, couldn’t resist. it’s summer)-Unquote.

    Love the humour. Thanks much, Debito.

  • A interesting note—

    I mentioned to some people I know that this is now international news. (friends of mine from Canada, UK, USA, and Thailand all sent me emails about this story)
    My japanese friends were surprised that it was international and expressed embarrassment from the whole fiasco. はずかしい was uttered more than a few times.

  • From JK:

    10 foreign nationals among missing centenarians
    Friday 06th August, 2010, Kyodo News

    TOKYO —
    At least 10 of the 56 missing centenarians in Japan are foreign nationals, indicating flaws in the country’s resident registry system, according to a Kyodo News tally based on inquiries to local governments. Even if these foreign nationals are confirmed to be no longer living in their given addresses, municipal governments are not authorized to delete their registrations as the Justice Ministry is in charge of their whereabouts, municipal officials said.

    Some municipalities are asking the ministry to change its foreign resident registration data on people who no longer live in their jurisdictions, but their registered addresses often remain intact as the ministry tends to withhold judgment due to lack of information, they said. The 10 foreign centenarians are registered in eight municipalities—two each in Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward and the city of Chiba, and one each in Tokyo’s Minato and Sumida wards, its suburban city of Kiyose, Matsudo in Chiba Prefecture, Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture and Fukuoka.

    A 105-year-old woman who was registered in Minato Ward has been missing since enrolling about 30 years ago as a transient visitor, a ward official said, adding that the ward’s request for the Justice Ministry to omit the information is being withheld even though the ward has confirmed that she no longer lives at the address. Arakawa Ward has also asked the ministry to look into the record of a male resident who has been missing for three years, but the data have been left intact due to lack of information to justify its deletion, an official said.

    The problem of missing centenarians unfolded across Japan after the mummified remains believed to be of Sogen Kato, who is believed to be Tokyo’s oldest man at aged 111, were found last week in his home in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward.

  • pedanticf*ck says:

    Actually, the guys in the Roman army were “centurions”, with an “o”. (And they were in charge of eighty-three soldiers, not a hundred.) And I need to get a life.

  • Yesterday I watched on the news about an old lady, who apparently had left her house 30 years ago (when her son was in his early 40s) after a fight with her daughter-in-law.Later on, her son received her cash card from his sister and kept withdrawing her nenkin for all these 30 years, whithout really caring about her.Now this is outrageous! Unfortunately this wasn’t the only case-most of the reports about missing elderly above 100years old which I watched on the news involved a child or another close relative who just kept withdrawing nenkin for decades, and began doing this during the bubble era, when they were still in their 50s-40s. These people belong to the generation which built Japan as it is now.

  • @Joe: “hardly enough to dent any previous population simulations

    The numbers are expanding. Kobe alone:

    The Japan Times Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010
    Kobe reports 105 missing centenarians

    KOBE (Kyodo) The Kobe Municipal Government said Tuesday that 105 centenarians registered as living in the city are unaccounted for, including a woman listed as Japan’s oldest woman at age 125…

  • CSM offers good summary of issue and mentions outmoded registry system (no mention of NJ not being included, but ah well). Courtesy of the author:

    In graying Japan, scandal over ‘missing’ 100-year-olds
    The search is on in graying Japan for dozens of missing 100-year-olds. The cases have raised questions about fraying family ties as well as pension fraud.

    Christian Science Monitor / August 10, 2010
    By Justin McCurry, Correspondent

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    I wonder if the deceased NJ “centuarians” are being added to the NPA’s list of “overstayers” (giggle)

  • Steadily rising. Up to 279 now.

    100歳以上不明、全国279人 兵庫・大阪などに集中








  • Riddle of vanishing centenarians exposes malaise in Japanese life

    TOKYO LETTER: Macabre details of old people’s remains are symptomatic of family ties unravelling, writes DAVID McNEILL
    The Irish Times August 21, 2010

    When social workers turned up recently at the Tokyo home of 111-year-old Sogen Kato – officially listed as the city’s oldest man – they found his mummified body in a back bedroom. Stacks of newspapers nearby suggested he had been dead for 30 years.

    Kato’s 83-year-old son told the police this month that about 10 days after his father “disappeared” into the bedroom he noticed a bad smell. He reportedly waited a full two years to check again when he found that dad had turned into a partially decomposed skeleton. Then he just went on living with the corpse.

    Inevitably, the Japanese media fed greedily on the macabre details of the story as it dribbled out during the slow holiday period. As with most cases of apparently irrational human behaviour, a rational – if venal – explanation was at hand: Kato’s family had been collecting his pension since the early 1980s and had a monetary interest in keeping his death secret. But it turns out that this was far from an isolated case.

    Around the country local authorities have been literally calling door-to-door since to determine how many more pensioners are “missing” – officially recorded as alive but actually long since departed to the great bureaucrat-free nirvana in the sky.

    So far, they have uncovered over 280 (of 41,000 recorded) centenarians who have “vanished”. Nagano health officials crossed out the name of a 110-year-old man officially registered as the prefecture’s oldest person.

    In Kobe city, the missing include a 125-year woman – making her Japan’s oldest person. Another man listed as 127 years old – probably the oldest on the planet – died over 40 years ago. That’s very likely the tip of the iceberg: more than 10,000 people over the age of 70 were reported missing last year alone.

    The implications are potentially profound. Japan has long been proud of its citizens’ longevity – men here have an average life expectancy of 79.59 years – the fifth-longest in the world, while Japanese women hold the planet’s top spot at 86.44 years. Those remarkable statistical claims appear to have been badly mauled by flawed record-keeping.

    But the wider impact of the growing scandal is more disturbing for Japan, a country that supposedly reveres its elderly. Interviewed by incredulous reporters, the children and grandchildren of the missing pensioners have often sheepishly admitted to having no idea where they are.

    Some walked out the door years ago and never returned. Many have cut off all contact with their families by choice and live – and sometimes die – alone. According to the Japan Times, the authorities have uncovered 16,000 unidentified dead over the past 15 years. Thousands of elderly people are simply falling through the social cracks.

    In one case – not atypical – officials searching for 113-year-old Fusa Kuruya found her 79-year-old daughter living at the registered address. When they asked where her mother was she said they hadn’t seen each other since 1986. According to Japanese media reports, the daughter claimed she thought her mother was living with her brother.

    Commentators have taken to the airwaves to take potshots at these apparently cold-hearted relatives, while often neglecting the bigger social picture – the breakdown of family ties under the strains of modern urban life.

    Japan’s public records system, which is built largely around an antiquated system of family registration called the koseki, assumes that the family unit – inherited from a time when this was a nation of tight-knit local communities – is still the bedrock of the nation.

    Old people are still supposedly being cared for by their families, except many are not – they’re living alone.

    The state would prefer that the older system stays intact – for one thing, it means that the burden of caring for Japan’s legions of elderly remains within the family’s four walls.

    More than 22 per cent of the nation’s population is aged 65 or older, according to the national statistics bureau, a figure set to rise to 40 per cent by mid-century. Caring for those people will put an enormous burden on state finances – newspapers regularly warn that the public pension system is essentially bankrupt.

    The fact that some families have carried on receiving state pensions years after their parents left or died has distracted the media from this wider problem. Many Japanese people see these families as greedy or uncaring. But as the economy declines and the number of elderly rises, there are likely to be many more such cases.

    For better or worse, pensioners increasingly find themselves a burden on families unable to care for them, and the state has done a pretty poor job of filling in the welfare gap. Thousands of old people live isolated lives and die unannounced and unnoticed.

    It’s not quite as bad as a time when families took their old into the mountains to die. But it’s getting there.

  • OK, now I’m getting worried:


    Oldest person found is 163 years old, meaning that they were children when the black boats arrived in Japan. Most disturbing to me was the following:


    “In Osaka, the number of 120 year olds and above registered as living on the koseki, but not registered within the JukiNet system has risen to 5125.”

    I don’t know how the estimates are calculated for Japan, but if Osaka’s bungling is any indication of what is happening throughout the country, and if Koseki are being used in the estimates, then Japan’s actual life expectancy may be several years lower than reported!








    (2010年8月26日03時03分 読売新聞)


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