Teaching In Socks

The problem with bags
September 10, 2010, 1:56 pm
Filed under: Japan | Tags: , , ,

This summer in Japan has been the hottest recorded in 61 years. Actually, that statement is most certainly wrong as with each day the number of years increases back further into the annals of history. This trend will undoubtedly continue until sometime in October when climate historians will announce that this has been the hottest summer since the earth’s crust was molten and people will resort to to violent and primal non-society where the only things that count as currency are ice fans. There is of course a chance that the world will begin to tilt on it’s axis and it will start too cool down, but until that happens I will continue to believe that this summer is the one where the Earth finally reveals itself to be a sun disguised as a planet.

To make it worse people have been dying–or rather people who have been dead are being found. This unfortunate series of events kicked-off around the end of July when local authorities in Tokyo went to congratulate Japan’s oldest living person. When they finally gained access to his house, they learned that he was not Japan’s Oldest Living Person but instead that he had been dead, relaxing in his recliner for thirty years. Actually it’s important to note that he had been dead in his recliner and receiving a pension for thirty years. You may have heard this story, it made the international news circuit at the time. Taken by itself, while unfortunate for the man, it’s kind of a humorous Darwin Awards-esque tragedy about the failures of bureaucracy. However, as we are dealing with bureaucracy, no problem can be taken by itself. Bureaucracies are systems and their problems more often than not are systemic; thus, thousands of municipal workers were sent scrambling through their towns and cities to check in on pensioners.

The number of missing centenarians and pensioners snowballed. In a matter of days one hundred missing pensioners became two hundred, and then three hundred with final estimates reached around eight hundred missing across Japan.It was front-page fodder.

Now, the American in me looks at this situation as eight hundred missing people in a country of one hundred and twenty-five million. It’s bad, but statistically, it doesn’t sound that bad to me. If a study was done diligently, America would probably fare far worse. However, what was at stake here was the pride of Japanese diligence, and the reputation of country known for close knit families with multiple generations living in the same home.

For the most part,  the problem for the most part was confined to urban areas but the whole country felt the international impact that accompanied the findings. Japan was predictability and cruelly mocked by Asian rivals China and Korea, who took their shots with political cartoons and editorials mocking what they purported as the “lie” of Japanese longevity.

Things got worse when authorities began to locate some of the missing pensioners. In a handful of cases the missing person’s mummified remains were found in the houses, storage spaces and, most grotesquely, the bags and backpacks of their relatives. In many of these cases, these remains had been sitting around for years, even decades collecting pensions. The relatives often explained that at the time their family member died, they had no money to pay for a proper funeral and furthermore since the death had no means of an income and instead relied on the pension of the deceased.

While it’s certainly not and honest or morale way to make a living, if this was indeed the situation, it’s hard for me to mock these people. Japan, despite having the third largest economy, has been a pattern for stagnation for over a decade.  These people may have had difficulty finding sustainable jobs, and in some cases may have had to quit such a job  to take care of their ailing relative. This is all speculation of course. I suppose the ironic part of this is that one of the primary growth industries in Japan is elderly care.

The moral of this story is a bit unclear. There are several to choose from; Should bureaucracy work harder and more efficiently to do it’s job better–of course, should people not disgrace their deceased family members for their own financial gain–certainly.  However, these morals were both kind of givens. Instead I think the real important lesson to be learned here is, if you’re a cadaver-conscious pension-collector, who is feeling a bit ill and is living with unemployed relatives who surreptitiously start buying a few large-size duffel bags, maybe it’s in your best interest to take a vacation somewhere and not come back.