More than 230,000 Japanese people listed as 100 years old cannot be located and many may have died decades ago, according to a government survey released on September 10. The justice ministry said the survey found that more than 77,000 people listed as still alive in local government records would have to be aged at least 120, and 884 would be 150 or older. The figures have exposed antiquated methods of record-keeping and fuelled fears that some families are deliberately hiding the deaths of elderly relatives in order to claim their pensions.
The nationwide survey was launched in August after police discovered the mummified corpse of Sogen Kato, who at 111 was listed as Tokyo's oldest man, in his family home 32 years after his death. Kato's granddaughter has been arrested on suspicion of abandoning his body and receiving millions of yen in pension payments after his unreported death.
Soon after came the discovery that a 113-year-old woman listed as Tokyo's oldest resident had not been seen by her family for more than 20 years. Japan's failure to maintain accurate records of its oldest citizens is also being blamed on strict privacy laws and weakening family and community ties. The survey uncovered 2,34,354 centenarians who are listed as still alive but whose addresses could not be confirmed. Ministry officials suspected some deaths went unreported in the confusion that followed the end of the Second World War, while other people may have lost touch with relatives or moved overseas without informing the authorities.
The discovery has proved a major embarrassment in a country that supposedly reveres its oldest citizens.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010