It’s no secret that Japanese people are known for their longevity. Japan has long boasted a huge number of centenarians (people 100 years old or older), and one of the highest life expectancies on the planet. People have wondered for some time how the Japanese live so long, but if you ask me, something is amiss in Japan.
This summer, the Japanese government announced that it had reached a record high of centenarians: more than 47,000. Out of those, an incredible 87% are women. This should be too terribly surprising, as women have higher life expectancy all around the world and lower death rates in every single age group.
But why are there so many elderly people in Japan? Part of the reason is that lots of aspects of the Japanese lifestyle are reportedly extremely healthy. Last year Koichi wrote a post about why Japanese people live so long that you can read here. (Spoiler: it has to do with how you poop.)
But there’s also the fact that more and more of Japan’s population is elderly. Japan’s birth rate has been steadily falling for several decades now, meaning that there are more old people than there are young people. This is known as the Aging of Japan, and probably the biggest issue Japan faces today.
Where Have All the Old People Gone?
While Japan definitely has tons of old people, there are some doubts about just how many. Last summer, government officials discovered that Tokyo’s oldest man and woman had respectively been either dead or missing for decades. These two discoveries prompted more investigations and government officials soon discovered that many more centenarians were completely unaccounted for. And that isn’t even taking into account all of the victims of 3/11.
Why is this the case? Is it that hard to keep track of Japan’s elderly? Turns out that there are two main reasons that old Japanese people have just sort of been forgotten and misplaced.
There is, of course, the distinctly Japanese notion of not wanting to cause a fuss. Generally, Japanese people don’t want to bother those around them or cause any sort of disturbance. (Again, this is a huge generalization.) You can see this a lot in Japanese society, like earlier this year when a Japanese man lost a snake on a train but didn’t tell anybody because he didn’t want to be a bother. (Note: always tell somebody when your reptile escapes in a public place.)
But the more sinister explanation is that Japanese people are basically ignoring their elderly relatives’ deaths or disappearances so they can continue to collect their relatives’ pensions. Some people blame this on the outdated koseki system, but it’s hard to ignore that so many people aren’t reporting their relatives’ deaths or actively covering the deaths up.
To me, this all adds up to one confusing situation about elderly people in Japan. Hopefully the future holds a more clear situation for elderly Japanese.