CHIANG MAI, Thailand - In a slum in the outskirts of the Thai city of Chiang Mai, where trash and abandoned cars litter the streets, an 81-year-old Japanese man died of cancer in February.
“I want to go back to Japan. I miss Japan,” the man had said on his deathbed at home.
His siblings refused to take his remains, prompting his Thai girlfriend, who had been living with him, to scatter them in a river nearby.
With prices relatively cheap, Thailand is a popular destination for Japanese retirees who want to move overseas. But at the same time, a growing number of elderly Japanese are dying alone there.
According to the man’s girlfriend, he was born in Tokyo and worked as a taxi driver. He moved to Thailand about two decades ago because it was more affordable than living in Japan.
But since he couldn’t speak Thai, he was lonely and stayed at home all day watching TV and reading books.
“Because he wasn’t working, he was short on cash and couldn’t pay the hospital bills,” she recalled.
It’s not a rare case.
Another Japanese man in his 80s living nearby died around the same time after becoming ill. He rarely talked with his neighbors. His Thai wife conducted the funeral but his daughters in Japan refused to participate.
Dementia patients, terminally ill patients in hospitals with no one to rely on and unclaimed bodies at morgues are some of the issues the Japanese Consulate General in Chiang Mai hears about daily from Thai authorities.
Northern Thailand is a popular retirement destination, with over 1,500 Japanese registered as residents there. In most cases, they plan to return to Japan after their adventure ends.
“I don’t want to be a trouble to the Thai people, so I plan to go back to Japan eventually,” one 76-year-old Japanese man said.
But in some cases, they overstay their visas after exhausting their savings and have no money to go back. In other cases, they can’t go back because of debt, work and relationship problems.
Thailand is said to be lax on immigration, which lures Japanese with complicated backgrounds. But since they tend to remain reclusive, it makes it difficult to find out where they live and how they are doing.
According to the consulate in Chiang Mai, about 20 people have died in each of the past three years, reflecting the aging Japanese population there. About 15 had died as of the end of April.
Some die alone and aren’t discovered until several days later. When their relatives in Japan are contacted, many refuse to claim the body, saying they “don’t want to have anything to do with it.”
Similar cases are said to be found in the Philippines.
“It’s like a microcosm of the aging society in Japan,” said an official in charge of the issue at the consulate. “It’s something no one had anticipated a decade ago.”