The business of dying alone

Kyodo News

Posted at Apr 17 2018 09:24 AM

TOKYO - An unmarried Kanagawa Prefecture man in his late 60s recently signed a contract to have a funeral home organize a service and his personal affairs upon his death.

The man lives in a nursing home and has no next of kin who he can task with tending to his posthumous arrangements.

"I'm thinking of preparing for the conclusion of my life as much as I can," said the man from the city of Yamato who declined to be identified.

The man was accompanied by a Yamato local official for the funeral service contract signing in February as the city government oversees the funeral support business.

As Japanese society rapidly ages and postwar baby-boomers reach their 70s, other municipalities have also begun offering similar services.

Officials of local governments say that even among those who have friends and relatives, many are unable, or reluctant, to rely on them.

"I don't want to bother anybody when the time comes," the man said, explaining that his siblings are also too old to depend on.

The city government introduced the service in April 2016, targeting people with no relatives or insufficient money to take care of arrangements like funerals and cremations.

Up to 206,000 yen is provided to cover each person's expenses, according to the local office.

The man registered and was issued a card bearing the name of his funeral operator and the city contact information. Because he is alone, the local government will also make regular visits to check in.

To those concerned about how to take care of arrangements, regardless of whether they have a regular income or relatives, the Yamato government also provides information about judicial or administrative clerks who are available.

In January, the Chiba city government, in association with insurance company Aeon Life Co., also began holding workshops and consultations for residents who are advanced in age or otherwise contemplating arrangements for after their death.

The city government's local support center takes inquiries from its residents, provides references to those who require them to gain access to hospitals or nursing care homes, prepares trusts to be executed through a will, and can arrange personal affairs after a death.

Explaining the need for the service, a local government official said caretakers have mentioned that even though they can care for people while they're alive, they are unable to make arrangements after their death.

The Yokosuka city government, also in Kanagawa, has helped its residents make funeral arrangements since April 2015 after instances of remains of people cremated with public money going unclaimed shot up rapidly.

"In many of those cases, relatives refused (to claim the remains)," Kazuyuki Kitami, deputy director of the local government's welfare department, said. "For those who have savings of more than 100,000 yen, we can make plans as they wish if they sign a contract prior to death."

Kitami said that there are various cases, circumstances and requests they face, such as a widow who asked the local government to have her remains placed next to her husband's.

Midori Kotani, a chief researcher at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute who is familiar with the issue, said, "There are probably not so many people applying because of the costs, but just learning about the service offers some reassurance."

"Public welfare services in Japan end once the person dies," she said. "But it is time to consider public assistance for people (in death) as well."