Monday, 9 August 2010

One of our centenarians is missing!

Actually that’s not true, at last count it was about 60 of the sly buggers – what is going on in the post-100 not out age classification stakes?

You may have seen a week or two ago that that in Tokyo a local ward office official from Adachi-ku, accompanied by a policeman, popped around to see Sogen Kato, a 111year old man, to check the usual things one checks on with 111year old people and to give him a commemorative gift for attaining such a ripe old age intact. Kato’s kids (81 yr old daughter and 53 year old granddaughter) refused to let the official see their pa, saying that he was a ‘human vegetable’ and therefore wasn’t in any condition to meet anyone.

But then the following day the granddaughter reportedly went to visit the stonemason who made the gravestone for Kato’s wife when she died, at the age of 101, and told the stonemason all about the visit, apparently adding:

"My grandfather shut himself in a room on the first floor of our home 30 years ago, and we couldn't open the door from the outside. My mother said, 'Leave him in there,' and he was left as he was. I think he's dead."

No shit! At the time, I read somewhere else, the old fella said something along the lines of “I’m going to become a living Buddha so close the door and don’t come in again, no need to worry about the food and water (but beer and yakitori on a Friday night would be most welcome) !” he probably didn’t add.

Of course with every dodgy event in Japan there is some money involved, this time being pension payments, which appear to be about 9 million to him but only from 2005 to now, and seeing as they reckon he’s been dead for possibly 30 years it could be a great deal more – but in the family bank vault is only about 3 million, so the kids have some explaining to do I expect…

So then a couple of days later a similar thing happened with Tokyo’s ostensibly oldest person, the 113 year old Fusa Furuya of Suginami-ku, who has not lived at her address in Suginami for decades and therefore no one knows where she is. Also missing is Furuya’s oldest son and when the police went to check his address, in the hope of finding him and mom, all they found was a vacant piece of land. They did eventually track down the errant offspring but all they got from him was an ‘I don’t know’ on the whereabouts of ma. At least in this one there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of pension fraud as the kids haven’t been collecting it, but there does seem to have been a lot of parental neglect by the kids, there are 3 in total, who don’t appear to have spoken to each other since about 1990 and when they were all asked ‘where’s your mum?’ all pointed to the person on their left and said ‘living with him!’

Of course since all this kicked off all the wards in Tokyo, and I daresay other prefectures as well, have suddenly realised they better be checking up on this sort of thing, and when they have it appears that at least 63 of the longest livers (I don’t mean that their livers are particularly long, or any other internal organs for that matter, just they have lived a long time) might not be that long lived after all. In Osaka prefecture at 21 are missing, including 18 in Higashi-Osaka alone. It’s not clear if this is just carelessness on the part of the local governments and/or relatives of these oldsters, or a more sinister plot being concocted by North Korea to bankrupt Japan by over claiming pension rights (no one has made the North Korean connection yet, so remember, you read it here first).

Half the problem, though, seems to be the kids (kids in the broadest possible sense, of course). For example in my own ward of Itabashi a welfare worker who visited the home of a woman recognized as the ward's oldest in September last year and again this spring was not allowed to meet the woman, as her family said she "had difficulty going out." Quite why ‘difficulty going out’ means the ward official ‘can’t go in’ wasn’t immediately made clear, but there you go.

A lot of the time the ward offices are trying to contact the old folks to give them presents or other handouts, whereupon their progeny basically say “yeah, he lives here; no you can’t see him but I’d be happy to pass on the cash”, but ‘pass on’ soon turns to ‘pocket’, which is, of course, fraud. Why the ward offices can’t make a simple rule along the lines of ‘you want the cash? Show us the person’, I’m not really sure, though the Guru said it was against their human rights to demand to see someone (but then again she was happy all the pension money was going back in the pot).

Anyway with 40,399 centenarians as of September last year this could well be a slightly more widespread problem, just watch out for those North Koreans!

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