More than 234,000 people listed on Japanese government records as age 100 or older are actually missing and probably dead, in some cases long dead, the Justice Ministry said Friday.
The findings are results of a nationwide survey begun last month after several local governments began turning up cases of centenarians listed on their records as alive and well, but whose whereabouts were unknown. Those reports set off an outcry in Japan over whether a nation that has long prided itself on its people's longevity was properly caring for its elderly.
The number of cases reported Friday was far larger than earlier local reports, which had estimated the number of missing centenarians in the low thousands.
The ministry blamed poor bookkeeping for most of the cases, saying that the individuals had apparently died or moved away but that no one had bothered to update the records. Still, the sheer size of the problem underscores the challenges Japan faces in caring for its growing numbers of elderly — or in these cases, just keeping count of them.
"I can feel that these people were probably isolated from the rest of society," Japan's justice minister, Keiko Chiba, told reporters, "given that we do not even know if they were dead or alive."
According to the ministry, the survey of local government records uncovered about 77,000 missing residents listed as at least 120 years old, and 884 were on the records as 150 or older. The longest-lived person recorded in modern times was a Frenchwoman who died in 1997 at age 122.
The ministry did not say how many of Japan's centenarians were found to be still alive. The oldest confirmed person living in Japan is a 113-year-old woman in the southern prefecture of Saga.
The furor over Japan's missing centenarians began in July when police in Tokyo discovered the body of Sogen Kato, the man thought to have been the city's oldest living man at 111, mummified in his bed, dead for 32 years.
New York Times
Japan's tally of centenarians way off