Clean-up crew on hand to spruce up Japan's 'lonely death' apartments

Wed Apr 1, 2015 7:22am EDT
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By Chris Meyers

TOKYO (Reuters) - In March, the body of an elderly man was found on the floor of his apartment in downtown Tokyo. He had been dead for a month.

Neighbors hadn't noticed the octogenarian's absence. His bank made the rent payments on time, his family didn't visit, and the only reason for the body's discovery was the slight smell that troubled the tenant in the flat below.

In rapidly ageing Japan, more people are dying alone and unnoticed in a country of 127 million where one in four people is over 65. Looser family bonds play a role in their isolation.

For these so-called "lonely deaths", families and landlords in Tokyo are increasingly turning to Hirotsugu Masuda and his clean-up crew to salvage apartments where the occupant's body lay undiscovered for days or weeks.

"This has started becoming a bit more common in the world and it's become more recognized that there's this sort of job," said Masuda, whose services are required 3-4 times a week in summer when bodies decompose faster.

When Masuda's team turns up at the Tokyo apartment, police have taken away the corpse but body fluids have seeped into the floor. Flies buzz around a cooker filled with rice. Old calendars and papers are strewn in rooms untouched for years.

Workers wearing protective gear spray the apartment with insect repellent, using gloved hands to pack the trash in boxes. The six-hour exercise is conducted discreetly to avoid upsetting the neighbors. The crew tells onlookers they are moving house.

When they are done, incense and flowers are placed where the body was, with the man's photo put where his head had been.   Continued...

Hirotsugu Masuda, a worker for special cleaning, prays before entering a garbage-filled flat  in Tokyo March 20, 2015 where a body of 85 year-old man was left over a month.  REUTERS/Toru Hanai