Japan Has Somehow Misplaced Most of Its Extremely Old People

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A 101-year-old Japanese woman drinking beer. Photo: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

The country of Japan has long been known for its admirable prowess in three main areas: electronics, sushi, and old people. Of the ten oldest people ever recorded, according to Wikipedia, Japan can claim three. It's also home to three of the world's oldest people who are currently living — or so they say. In reality, the country is in the midst of a scandal that is sending shock waves through the already fragile supercentenarian community.

It all started last week when Tokyo officials, in the run-up to Respect for the Elderly Day, paid a visit to 111-year-old Sogen Kato, Tokyo's oldest man, only to find him mummified on his bed, having died 30 years ago. His family is suspected of hiding Kato's death in order to collect his pension for the past three decades.

No biggie, these things happen. But just to make sure there wasn't something strange going on, Tokyo officials then paid a visit to 113-year-old Fusa Furuya, Tokyo's oldest living woman. When they got to her home, Furuya's daughter claimed her mom never lived at the address, and directed the elderly-hunters to a location outside of the city, which turned out to be a vacant lot. So — Kato, Furuya ... this is starting to get weird. Maybe it's just a coincidence. But it isn't.

Officials are also looking for a 106-year-old man who is missing in Nagoya, central Japan, Kyodo News agency reported. The Asahi newspaper said three more listed centenarians were unaccounted for.


Confronted by the embarrassment of an apparent missing-old-person epidemic, Japan's health minister is now calling "for a nationwide check on the whereabouts of elderly residents." Hopefully, they aren't just wandering around the Japanese countryside in a haze of dementia. Hopefully, this is just a matter of shoddy record-keeping, and the vast majority of Japan's still-living super-old people are safe at home, doing whatever it is that super-old people do.

Tokyo's oldest listed person, age 113, is missing [MSNBC]