Officials fail to keep track of oldest people

24 prefectures forgo direct proof

Kyodo News

Only 23 of the nation’s 47 prefectures have confirmed through meetings that their oldest residents are alive, a Kyodo News survey showed Tuesday.

All prefectural governments said they make periodic checks, but only 23 use face-to-face meetings while most of the others rely on phone calls to their family members.

The survey comes on the heels of recent revelations in Tokyo that a man who was supposed to be the capital’s oldest man at age 111 died three decades ago and that no one seems to know where the city’s oldest woman can be found.

The cases may throw Japan’s longevity title into question. Suspicions have also been raised that the children and grandchildren of centenarians may be deliberately hiding the deaths of their elderly kin to bilk the government for their pension money.

On Tuesday, Tokyo reported yet more cases in which officials can’t confirm the whereabouts of centenarians. Arakawa Ward said two men, aged 108 and 104, who are registered in the ward haven’t been confirmed alive for the last three years.

Arakawa officials said they they have absolutely no clue on how to track them down.

Tokyo’s supposedly oldest woman, Fusa Furuya, is 113 years old if she’s still alive. But while her domicile was transferred to Suginami Ward in 1986, no one clearly recollects when she was last seen, although her daughter has continued paying medical care premiums on her behalf.

Furuya was born in July 1897, according to the ward and police, both of which have been trying to contact her son and other relatives.

The son was registered as living in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, but when Suginami officials visited the address Tuesday, they found a vacant lot.

Ward officials went to Furuya’s registered Suginami residence last Friday and apparently talked with her 79-year-old daughter, who shares the address. The daughter said she transferred Furuya’s residence from Chiba to Suginami in 1986, but it was her understanding that her mother still lives in Chiba with her son and she has not been in contact with her.

The ward said it has no record of Furuya receiving a pension, but her daughter said she keeps paying into Furuya’s nursing care and medical insurance — services the mother has not used.

Her daughter told reporters Monday night she doesn’t remember why she moved her mother’s residence registration along with hers.

“I kept paying premiums for my mother’s medical insurance, thinking it would be good if she is still alive and can use it,” she said. “I don’t know if she is dead or alive.”

Last week it was reported that officials found the mummified corpse of a man, allegedly a shut-in, who would have been 111 years old if still alive, but he probably died around 1978.

His family, including relatives who shared the same dwelling in Adachi Ward, are under investigation for pension-related fraud. Sogen Kato was found in his bed and the most recent newspaper found in the room was dated Nov. 5, 1978.

Officials said they repeatedly tried to check up on him, only to have family members claim he was OK and that he wasn’t home.

When Kato’s wife died six years ago at age 101, roughly ¥9.5 million in pension funds was sent to him, and some ¥2.7 million was pulled from his account in July, investigative sources said last week.

According to Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry statistics, there were 40,399 centenarians in Japan as of last September.

But the latest developments suggest some may be dead and their demise unrecorded.

In 2005, it was reported that a woman in Arakawa Ward, who had been ranked 19th on the ministry’s list of the 100 oldest citizens at the time, had not been seen for more than 40 years but would have been 110 if still alive. The ministry stopped releasing the annual list the following year.

An official said the health ministry has been instructing local governments in recent years to visit the registered dwellings of centenarians to confirm their situation.

But one local official said this is difficult because they have no authority to conduct visual inspections.

The 2005 incident prompted many local governments to track the whereabouts of centenarians, leading to the discovery that 52 thought to be alive were either dead or missing.