Thu, Aug 05, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Japan searches for missing centenarian citizens, report says

THE GUARDIAN , TOKYO

They would make for bizarre missing persons posters: “Unknown number of Japanese citizens. Distinguishing features, gray hair and facial lines. Aged at least 100. Last seen several decades ago.”

Japan on Tuesday launched a nationwide campaign to establish the whereabouts of its oldest residents after embarrassed officials in Tokyo discovered that a 113-year-old woman thought to have been the capital’s oldest citizen had been missing for more than 20 years.

The revelation that Fusa Furuya’s relatives have no idea where she is and that the house where she was supposed to have lived no longer exists has sparked feverish media coverage. It comes days after the corpse of Tokyo’s supposed oldest man was found mummified more than 30 years after his unreported death.

Officials in the capital’s Suginami ward attempted to visit Furuya, who was born in 1897, at an apartment in the city on Monday, but were told by her 79-year-old daughter that she had never lived there.

The daughter gave them the address of a house in Chiba, outside Tokyo, where Furuya was apparently living with the daughter’s estranged younger brother. Officials arrived at the address to find that the building had been demolished to make way for a motorway. Furuya and her daughter were registered as having moved to Tokyo in 1986, but the exact date of the older woman’s disappearance remains a mystery. Police are attempting to contact her son to establish her whereabouts.

The failure of the city’s welfare office to maintain contact with its two oldest residents is an embarrassment for a country that prides itself on looking after its huge population of senior citizens.

The phenomenon of disappearing seniors hit the headlines late last month when police discovered that Sogen Kato, then thought to be Tokyo’s oldest man at 111, had died 32 years earlier.

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