Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Myth of Japanese Longevity

The Japanese are purported to enjoy one of the longest life expectancies in the Westernized world, with one of the highest centenarian populations of any modern culture. But it looks like this is almost certainly a myth.

Approximately 234,000 people listed on Japanese government records as being aged 100 or older are actually missing and undoubtedly long dead. In 2010, Japanese officials uncovered about 77,000 missing residents listed as at least 120 years old, and 884 were on the records as 150 or older.

Sogen Kato, Tokyo's oldest man, as found on his 111th birthday.
Kato did not respond to our requests for an interview.
Japan's Justice Ministry blames "poor bookkeeping" for most of the cases. Which is, of course, ludicrous. The Japanese, as a whole, are not known for poor bookkeeping. More to the point, every city, town, and village in Japan records births, marriages, and deaths (among other events) in a koseki, or family register. The koseki system was instituted throughout Japan in the 1870s. The koseki is supplemented by a regular census taken every five years. The idea that a quarter million people could go missing in a system so census-oriented beggars belief.

What's actually happening, of course, is welfare fraud. The case of Sogen Kato, "Tokyo's oldest man," illustrates what's going on. In July 2010, police requested a birthday visit of Sogen Kato, ahead of Japan's Respect for the Elderly Day in September. Kato was born July 22, 1899, which would have made him 111. The police were repeatedly turned away by Kato's family. Eventually, officials entered Kato's bedroom and found his mummified body, dead for 30 years, on the bed. The family had been living off Kato's never-ending pension the whole time.

In August 2010, a few weeks after the Kato incident, Tokyo police located the remains of a woman thought to be 104 years old in the backpack of her 64-year-old son, who never reported his mother's death. He had been living on his mother's pension for at least nine years, probably longer.

The fact that there are 234,000 unrecorded deaths in the Japanese population means the often-touted life-expectancy figure of 82 years for Japan now has to be considered suspect. CIA's web page on Japan's death rate shows Japanese mortality as having dropped by 10% in one year, in 2012. This is also suspect, obviously. If U.S. mortality were to drop 10% in one year it would be a major headline news story. For mortality to suddenly drop by 10% in a country of 127 million people (who smoke like fiends) simply isn't credible.

No one thought anything of it when Japan's centenarian population tripled in the space of ten years. Now we know the truth. The Japanese aren't living longer. They're just lying about their parents' ages.


  1. "Japan has long been thought to have one of the longest life expectancies in the Westernized world"

    I dont think Japan is part of the "Westernized world". Industrialized might be the word you're looking for?

    1. Anonymous1:53 PM

      I could certainly be wrong but I think "Westernized" is correct as it has been heavily influenced by "Western" culture. Saying it is a Western nation would be incorrect.

    2. Anonymous2:34 PM

      If you keep going East you will end up in the West.

    3. It is west form west if you are already west right ?

  2. The CIA data you reference seems a bit odd in some cases I just quickly found:
    - France, 6% drop from 2006 to 2007
    - UK, 6% drop from 2009 to 2010
    - Spain, 12% drop from 2009 to 2010

    Not sure what might be going with that data but the case of Japan doesn't seem so strange

  3. Anonymous3:10 PM

    Offtopic note: this page has a bit of Javascript which moves the sidebar up and down one pixel on alternating frames, which is really annoying, and spins a CPU.

  4. Anonymous5:22 PM

    interesting - same thing occurred a few years back in Greece... Longevity, long live the myth!

  5. Anonymous8:30 PM

    Most of the increase of life expectancy has been due to decreased infant mortality. It wasn't rare for people to live into their 70s or longer 200 years ago. In fact in the last 30 years if you adjust for infant mortality life expectancy hasn't increased at all.

  6. Anonymous9:06 PM

    Mediterranean Diet anyone? Maybe Welfare fraud is practiced in the Mediterranean too.

  7. Last year's Japanese film, Shoplifters (Manbiki Kazoku) explores this topic indirectly in a beautiful modern family story. Great performances. It won the Palm D'or at Cannes. On the topic, however, yes I think there is a lot of fraud taking place. Japan is in economic dire straits. People have become desperate. But I also believe that the Japanese are living longer. Just not as long as the official figures, perhaps.


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