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.