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Kodokushi: the wave of solitary deaths ravaging Japan

Kodokushi: the wave of solitary deaths ravaging Japan

January 25, 2022

If we think of Japan, probably the first things that come to mind is its mixture of tradition and avant-garde, its economic and technological power (especially in regard to robotics), samurais and geishas or even frequent natural disasters. those who usually have to face.

Focusing more specifically on their way of life tend to highlight the extreme level of personal and social demands of their society, their high labor productivity and the search for good repute for themselves and their families and ancestors.

However, few people tend to think about the high level of loneliness that a large part of their population has, especially when they reach retirement and old age. This fact has led to the appearance a sad phenomenon that is becoming more frequent: the kodokushi , which we are going to talk about next.


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Kodokushi: a death in solitude

It is understood as kodokushi or solitary death to a phenomenon on the rise in Japan, to the point of becoming a social problem .

It is, as the translation of the term indicates, the process by which a large number of people die in the most absolute loneliness in their homes, their death being unknown for a while and usually being found days or weeks later due to the odors of decomposition.

Generally this phenomenon is observed in people from forty-five to fifty years of age, especially in the case of males.


In many cases they do not have close friendship relationships and have not managed to form a family (many of them being single), or despite maintaining family ties they were not seen on a frequent or daily basis. Usually they are people who are alone in the last moments of their lives , generally elderly.

However, cases have also been observed in young people who do not have the means to survive, as well as in people who suffer from a mental disability or are in situations of dependence or serious illness in people who live alone and have no contact or support network. Social. In some cases, not only one person dies but several who lived together, such as couples or mothers and children. In the latter we would be talking more about koritsushi .

The specific causes of death vary enormously in each case, although it is common to find cases of cerebrovascular accidents, heart attacks, starvation or lack of nutrients or consequences of addictions, among them cirrhosis derived from alcoholism (often used to relieve feeling of loneliness).


Causes of solitary death

The kodokushi or solitary death does not have a single cause, being a multicausal phenomenon, but it is generally considered that its high prevalence is due mainly to the difficulties that can generate combination of such a demanding and professionally focused lifestyle, cultural factors and the progressive aging of the population.

Going into greater detail, one of its main causes and one of its defining elements is loneliness: the high level of professional demand and the constant search for excellence mean that a large part of the Japanese population leaves out aspects as relevant as social relations and personal life, remaining a significant proportion of single people (in fact, in some sectors around a quarter of the population over fifty) and with little social contact.

It is often stated that part of the guilt of the situation is that they hardly have time for it, beyond the labor contacts that end after reaching retirement. In fact, despite the high level of population in a relatively small territory and the traditional view in which older people live with their children and grandchildren, Japan is one of the countries considered among the loneliest of the globe .

Part of the cause is also the fact that the demand for excellence that makes society, extremely focused on economic growth and to be productive, generate high levels of stress that end up generating apathy and lack of desire to relate and activate.

All this also affects the demographic level: there are fewer and fewer births, with which over time the population ages.

In many cases, once retired (or in young people, after spending economic hardships by not getting a job) people are losing more and more resources, to the point that they can end up having a great economic precariousness and go hungry. In fact, one of the causes of death is starvation. In some cases they also suffer from dementia or some type of dependence , as we mentioned above.

Finally, even though many of these old people die after a period of solitude and a state that would make them precise and even depend on the help of others, the loneliness, the shame and the thought of not wanting to be a burden make Many do not dare to ask for help even when they need it, often pretending to be well in their last moments.

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An increasingly common type of death

The first known kodokushi cases appeared for the first time in the 1980s, and since then the phenomenon has continued to increase over the years.

Although it can be thought that this is a phenomenon that actually occurs throughout the world (and in fact unfortunately it is, knowing cases of people who were found days or weeks after his death after notifying neighbors the presence of odors) , in Japan this phenomenon is extremely frequent: only in 2008 and in the city of Tokyo more than two thousand people were found dead in the most absolute loneliness .

In fact, it is estimated that around 4 to 5% of funerals in Japan are linked to this type of death. And it does not stop: more and more people die forgotten, without ties to the environment and without anyone noticing their lack.

This is something so common that there are even companies specializing in cleaning the homes of these people, in order to eliminate both the belongings and the stains left by the effluvia of the bodies on the surfaces of the buildings (remember that many have been decomposing weeks and even months).

The need for preventive measures in Japan

The phenomenon has reached such a level (and not only in Japan, being something more and more frequent throughout the world), that It has become necessary to start establishing preventive measures . In the Japanese country, for example, the government collaborates with electricity and water companies to try to detect the sudden cessation of the use of these supplies that could be linked to a case.

Educational policies and the promotion of more prosocial and community values ​​could also be of help, as well as the search for a strengthening of family ties and socio-community integration through activities, devices and events.

It is also fundamental tackle poverty and lack of minimum resources , being a part of the deaths derived from the starvation, and the creation of institutions where to be able to socialize and to carry out activities beyond the labor thing.

Also initiatives like those that are observed nowadays in some countries, in which volunteers go to the houses of lonely old people, can help them feel more accompanied and favor their socialization.

Bibliographic references:

  • Otani, J. (2003). Case study of kodokushi (isolated death, death alone, dying alone). Geriatrics and Gerontology International, 3 (S48).
  • Tamaki, T. (2014). Live and Die in Solitude Away from the Family: Issues Relating to Unattended Death Kodokushi in Japan. Housei Riron, 45 (4).

Apartments in Tokyo (January 2022).


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