Tuesday, March 13, 2012

To Die Alone

Tuesday March 13, 10:33 p.m.

From about the late 80s, just when the Bubble was about to burst in Japan and end the amazing Economic Miracle, there was the shocking phenomenon of karoshi, death by overwork. Until I'd heard of this Japanese expression, I thought "death by overwork"was more of an idiom.

Now, just entering this year, there seems to be a new phenomenon that I've been hearing about via NHK. It's called kouritsushi, death by isolation. Just within the last 3 months, there have been cases popping up of apartment residents dying alone because, for whatever reason, they've slipped through the welfare system....frankly, not that difficult in a country which I've always thought had a comparatively flimsy system for the 3rd-largest economic superpower. There have been deaths of an elderly couple and their son, a middle-aged woman and her disabled son, and just this morning, a couple of sisters in Hokkaido who had been found frozen to death in their apartment because they hadn't been able to pay any of their utilities. They'd been dead for about a month.

For the 1st and 3rd cases, it was a matter that their businesses either shut down or laid them off. And they wouldn't or couldn't consult with the proper authorities about getting assistance. In the case of the two Hokkaido sisters, one of them had actually been at the city hall but never handed in the application for welfare assistance....was it a matter of pride involved? The second case was truly tragic...the mother apparently had an aneurysm and died instantly and the son, who couldn't feed himself, starved to death. Still, I have to wonder whether the local authorities could have done more to help these people....or were they just the unlucky ones who slipped through the cracks of the safety net, only to be eventually found out by the media?

In any case, I've got the sad impression that I'm going to be hearing about kouritsushi in future broadcasts.