From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Kodokushi (孤独死?) or 'lonely death' refers to a Japanese phenomenon of people dying alone and remaining undiscovered for a long period of time.[1] The phenomenon was first described in the 1980s.[1] Kodokushi has become an increasing problem in Japan, attributed to economic troubles and Japan's increasingly elderly population.[1][2]


Statistics regarding kodokushi are often incomplete or inaccurate.[1][3] Japan's national broadcasting network reported that 32,000 elderly people nationwide died alone in 2009.[4] The number of kodokushi tripled between 1983 and 1994, with 1,049 lonely deaths reported in Tokyo in 1994.[5] In 2008, there were more than 2,200 reported lonely deaths in Tokyo.[1] Similar numbers were reported in 2011.[6] One private moving company in Osaka reported that 20 percent of the moving company's jobs (300 per year) involved removing the belongings of people who had died lonely deaths.[1] Approximately 4.5% of funerals in 2006 involved instances of kodokushi.[7]

Kodokushi most often affects men in their 50s and people over 65 years old.[1]


Several reasons for the increase in kodokushi have been proposed. One proposed reason is increased social isolation. A decreasing proportion of elderly Japanese people are living in multi-generational housing and are instead living alone.[5] Elderly people who live alone are more likely to lack social contacts with family and neighbors, and are therefore more likely to die alone and remain undiscovered.[5]

Economic reasons for kodokushi have also been proposed.[1] Many incidents of kodokushi have involved people who were receiving welfare or had few financial resources.[2][3] McDonald suggests that the "Japanese trait of uncomplaining endurance," or gaman, discourages people in need from seeking help from neighbors and authorities.[3][8] Victims of kodokushi have been described as "slipping through the cracks" between governmental and familial support.[8][4]

Additionally, the economic slump in Japan since 1990 has been cited as contributing to the increase in lonely deaths.[1] Since 1990, many Japanese businessmen have been forced into early retirement.[1] Many of these men have never married and become socially isolated when removed from the corporate culture.[1]

Masaki Ichinose, head of the University of Tokyo's Institute of Death and Life Studies, hypothesizes that the increase in kodokushi is linked to Japan's contemporary culture which ignores death.[1] Several hundred years ago, Japanese people commonly confronted death; for example, bodies were typically buried by family members.[1] In contrast, in modern Japan, there are fewer opportunities to witness death and death is not readily discussed.[1]

Hypothesized psychological reasons for the increase in kodokushi include social apathy and life stress.[9] Social isolation is used as a coping mechanism to avoid stressful situations.[9]


Some districts in Japan have begun campaigns and movements to prevent lonely deaths. Officials in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward have started a kodokushi awareness campaign that includes scheduled social events and checking in on the well-being of elderly citizens.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Nobel, Justin (2010-04-06). "Japan: 'Lonely Deaths' Rise Among Unemployed, Elderly". TIME. Retrieved 2010-07-28. 
  2. ^ a b Brasor, Philip (2012-03-04). "Japan's lonely people: Where do they all belong?". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2014-06-22. 
  3. ^ a b c McDonald, Mark (2012-03-25). "In Japan, Lonely Deaths in Society’s Margins". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-06-22. 
  4. ^ a b Anne Allison (11 November 2013). Precarious Japan. Duke University Press. pp. 126–127. ISBN 978-0-8223-7724-5. Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Leng Leng Thang (2001). Generations in Touch: Linking the Old and Young in a Tokyo Neighborhood. Cornell University Press. pp. 177–179. ISBN 0-8014-8732-3. Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  6. ^ Mihaela Robila (19 June 2013). Handbook of Family Policies Across the Globe. Springer Science & Business. p. 327. ISBN 978-1-4614-6771-7. Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  7. ^ Hikaru Suzuki (2013). Death and Dying in Contemporary Japan. Routledge. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-415-63190-7. Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  8. ^ a b "3 unnoticed deaths in Saitama show poor slipping through safety net". The Asahi Shimbun. 2012-02-22. Retrieved 2014-06-22. 
  9. ^ a b "Noida sisters' case: It's 'kodokushi' in Japan!". News. Zeenews.com. Retrieved 29 November 2011.