Japan postmen drop by to visit old folks
WORKERS in more than 700 post offices in Japan now have an added brief for their job.
Make one or more visits in a month to some elderly residents living near their workplaces and use a checklist to confirm they are well and safe.
The results are mailed to the people who have purchased the service from Japan Post, likely to be the children of the elderly who live apart from their parents and lack the time or the zeal to pay regular visits, the Mainichi Shimbun reported.
The service is highly pertinent to a society where the number of elderly people living alone has been rising through the years.
According to the latest findings by Japan's welfare ministry, 6.24 million Japanese aged 65 and above - past the mark of six million for the first time - were documented as living alone last year.
There are altogether more than 12 million households in Japan whose elderly occupiers are living alone or with their spouse of the same age bracket.
This figure, which comprises more than a quarter of Japan's total households, is an alarming jump by about 500,000 from 2014.
More than half of these households reported financial difficulties in getting by, Kyodo news agency highlighted.
Many who are surviving only on public pensions or some social benefits could not secure additional sources of income, it added.
Elderly living alone usually die alone in Japan, whose capital Tokyo recorded a new high last year of more than 3,000 of such deaths in its 23 municipalities, TV Asahi reported.
That is double the figure in 2003 when the statistics were first collected.
Tokyo's figures also suggest that more elderly Japanese men die alone in the country - about 63 per cent - compared with women.
Dying alone, according to TV Asahi, refers to those whose bodies have to be cremated after laying unclaimed for some time.
Some regional authorities request local morgues to preserve unclaimed bodies for up to three years in case some relatives finally turn up.
"There are about 50 such bodies still with us after we received the order two years ago," the chief priest of a temple in Tokyo told TV Asahi.
Meanwhile, Japan Post's new president Kunio Yokoyama plans to spread his "check on your old folks" service to its 24,000 post offices across the country.
"Responding to issues of our ageing society is very important," he added.
"I think our company, with our nationwide network, can serve a social duty for Japan."
Last week, the Japanese government said the country's population had declined for the seventh straight year, sliding below 126 million for the first time in 17 years.
The ratio of Japanese aged 65 or older rose to about 27 per cent of the population while that of Japanese aged 14 or younger fell further to less than 13 per cent.