What does Kodokushi mean

Kodokushi: The lonely death in Japan

They are often the first visitors in weeks: men in white protective overalls and face masks. When the cleaning company's workers arrive, the residents of the apartment no longer notice their presence. They specialize in cleaning and clearing out the homes of the "lonely dead" in Japan. A line of business that continues to grow. Depending on the size of the apartment, removing the dead person and cleaning the apartment costs between 700 and 2800 euros.

Kodokushi, lonely death, is part of everyday life in the outskirts to the west and east of Tokyo. There, the proportion of people over 65 is often a third of the population. In 2012, according to the city government, 2,727 people died solitary - compared to 2009 an increase of 538 people. In 1980, 53 percent of Japanese people over the age of 65 lived with their children. In 2010 it was 18 percent. By 2030, the number of seniors living alone will only increase in Tokyo from 600,000 to 900,000 people.

Money problems and social withdrawal

The case of a 77-year-old woman whose severely disabled son had lived in a care facility for a long time caused a sensation in the Japanese public. The woman was active in the neighborhood association in her neighborhood - actually the best remedy for social isolation. One day, however, she brought her son home from the home, withdrew from the neighborhood association and increasingly reduced her social contacts. Her body was not found until months after her death.

Possibly money problems were the reason for their social withdrawal. In Japan, people are often ashamed to apply to the authorities for financial help that is due to them - albeit small by European standards. Not being able to look after yourself or your own family is associated with a loss of face in Japan, which must be avoided.

Lack of nursing staff

One reason why many old people live lonely in their homes is that old people's homes were frowned upon for a long time because they were viewed as deportation centers. Now there are too few homes and, above all, too few nursing staff. Attempts to bring nurses from Indonesia and the Philippines to Japan are making slow progress because the nurses union fears for jobs. The Ministry of Health expects a shortage of 300,000 nurses in 2025, 520,000 people will then be waiting for a home.

However, there are emergency services set up by the municipalities that visit the elderly in need at home and do their laundry, cook and provide basic medical care. An insurance policy was set up to finance the emergency services, into which every Japanese should actually pay, but this often does not happen because the contributions for long-term care insurance are not automatically deducted from wages or pensions.

Dedicated charity

In many small urban districts of Tokyo and other cities there are attempts by committed doctors and social workers and mostly older volunteers to create social structures that are supposed to prevent loneliness. There are cafes serving lunch or special dementia cafes.

The fact is, however, that the costs for the social system should increase by 36 percent by 2025. Japan is the country with the highest national debt and has to bear the costs of reconstruction after the tsunami and the Fukushima disaster. In the next few years, no great help can be expected from the state in caring for people without large old-age incomes. (Siegfried Knittel from Tokyo, June 8th, 2015)