Starving to death in ‘wealthy’ Japan
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Starving to death in ‘wealthy’ Japan

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The gap between "rich" and "poor" in Japan is growing. Picture: Flikr

It may be one of the largest economies in the world but Japan is quickly becoming a country divided into “rich” and “poor”.

Police believe three people found in their Saitama apartment, yesterday, died of starvation- a sad fate that highlights the worsening state of Japan’s economy.

The three adults, believed to be a family of two parents in their 60s and son in his 30s, appear to have died over two months ago. The building’s landlord discovered them when he came to collect the rent.

The family was in fact 6 months behind in their rent and had the gas and electricity cut off to their small, first floor apartment.

Inside, police found the bodies lying on futons without any external injuries. The apartment had been locked and was described by police as “tidy” suggesting there had been no struggle or fowl play.

A handful of one yen coins were found inside but there was no food apart from some boiled sweets.

NHK interviewed a neighbour who said she hadn’t seen the family since November last year.

“If we had known sooner [that the family were in trouble] maybe we could have done something to help.”

Another neighbour claimed the wife of the family asked if she could borrow some money to cover their rent. When the neighbour advised her to speak to welfare officials she reportedly refused.

Saitama Municipal Government said the family did not register for any welfare benefits. If they had the family would have been eligible for assistance and nursing services.

Extreme poverty and starvation is becoming a frighteningly common occurrence in Japan.  In the last 10 years, over 700 people have died from starvation, many of them elderly individuals, disconnected from their families.

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Older people are the most common victims of extreme poverty in Japan. Picture: Flikr

Traditionally, aging parents lived with their children but a survey of Japanese high school students last year showed that only 15.7 per cent planning on caring for the parents in their old age.

Single, older men in their mid to late 50s who are unemployed or have been made redundant also make up a high proportion of those who die of starvation.

In many of these cases, the individuals have applied for welfare benefits but have been refused by the government. Without wanting to shame themselves by asking for money from family or friends, they suffer quietly in tumbledown shacks.

In 2007, the New York Times reported of three men who died of starvation in Kitakyushu – a city who described their welfare system as a “model”. One kept a diary of his final days with his final entry reading: “My belly’s empty … I want to eat a rice ball. I haven’t eaten rice in 25 days.’

The Japanese government estimates that over 1.5 million people are living below the poverty line, however this number is expected to have increased since the Great East Japan Earthquake, last year.

Although the country has a comparatively high percentage of it’s GDP dedicated to public welfare spending (16.9 per cent compared to 14.8 per cent in the US), only 0.2 per cent of the GDP goes towards public assistance to the poor. That’s less than half of the US at 0.5 per cent.