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Official Japanese Sushi Thread
« on: September 30, 2015, 04:08:42 AM »
Probably should have started this one a while back.  Better late than never though.

They are going down fast.  Morris Berman will not be happy.

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Abe's Japan - Fascist and Falling

How fast can a country deteriorate? How promptly can it lose its culture, its soul?

Japan was my home for many years. I was running there from countless war zones, to get some rest, to enjoy beautiful nature and its ancient, deep culture.

I learned all about its legends and fairytales, I knew its creeks and peaks, villages lost in time.

I came here to think and to write, on board those marvelous high-speed trains, Shinkansens.

But in just a few years, things have gone to the dogs: first slowly, gradually, and then more and more rapidly.

Several “care-free” generations, obsessed with pleasure, entertainment, individualism –  generations fully influenced by the West – have finally broken the Japanese spirit, turning it into a bizarre hybrid.

The surface still remains intact, but there is hardly any depth underneath: A train conductor bows humbly to the passengers when leaving the car, but an old lady with heavy shopping bags will not get her seat from an aggressive-looking high school girl, yelling “kuso” (shit!) after every second word.

*

Japan of the right wing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is bellicose, racist, discriminative but also confused and full of complexes.

It is suddenly not such a great place to be, particularly if you are looking for harmony and social justice.

Only recently, Japan had the most equal distribution of wealth on earth, much better than Europe or Australia. It was easy to spot an MP eating in the same ramen noodle shop as a cleaning lady, if the ramen was good.

Now North American bad habits are infiltrating Japan: life-time employment guarantee is melting away, day by day, and unprotected millions are joining workforce as part-time or contract workers.

There are tens of thousand of homeless people in all major cities – something unthinkable in mainland China or Vietnam.

Just recently, Abe managed to pass a law allowing Japan to participate in combats abroad.

Of course, Abe’s so-called “nationalism” has nothing to do with the aristocratic patriotism of people like Yukio Mishima (one of the greatest modern writers, who publicly committed hara-kiri as a protest against the shameful Japanese collaboration with the United States).

The nationalism of Abe is nothing less than collaboration: a betrayal of both his own nation and his own continent – Asia.

Japan is now firmly on the side of oppressors.

It is openly antagonistic to both Russia and China, and it is tightening cooperation with all right wing, oppressive regimes in Asia, from Indonesia to the Philippines and Thailand.

A legendary Australian historian, Geoffrey Gunn, told me recently in Nagasaki: “Well, the fact of the matter is that China is indignant at its encirclement. China is indignant that Washington backs Japan, that Washington is ready to support Japan’s non-negotiation policy over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. So we see, in this situation, a clearly indignant China, and Japan that is taking a basically aggressive position in relation to so-called territorial integrity. So Pacific Asia is increasingly becoming more belligerent, more conflict-prone East Asia.”

Japan has gone mad. It has sacrificed its pride; and it has thrown its might behind the Western aggressors. In the past, its Western handlers allowed it to get rich through the blood spilled by Korean, Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian people –  during the U.S. beastly invasions and carpet-bombing campaigns. Japan supported all of these genocides, and it was making huge amount of money.

But still, it lost! Korea now has higher Human Development Index (HDI) than Japan, while communist China has bigger economy, faster running trains and greater cultural centers.

All this selling itself to the Westerners did not pay off.

And so comes hate! So came wounded pride.

“Most Japanese people now feel antagonistic towards both Chinese and Korean people,” my film editor in Osaka told me.

Instead of changing course, Japan is plunging deeper and deeper, in fact all the way, into unsavory annals of collaboration.

It discriminates. It treats foreigners like shit. It does not even pretend to be polite, anymore.

Come to Abe’s Japan! Land at Kansai Airport and if you are a foreigner, you will be humiliated. Yesterday, I stood 63 minutes in line and observed how some deranged senior citizens armed with bit of power were yelling and bossing shocked passengers. From landing to collecting my luggage it took a full 90 minutes. Including time to be fingerprinted and photographed. It used to take 20 minutes before bloody Abe.

Today I went to Travelex, to pick up some cash sent to me by a magazine in Moscow. Again, humiliation, tons of papers, refusal, by some rude, little aggressive individual called Maki Sekiguchi ... I wrote to Russia and received a prompt reply from the Chief Editor: “I have the impression that they have some secret instruction in place to make all transfers from Russia to be as painful as they could possibly be, authors are complaining about that.”

*

Instead of turning its back on the West, Japan is now subverting young Asian intellectuals, through grants it is giving, and through the brainwashing it calls “education”.

Japan does not have any independent media. I worked for their newspapers, and I know, precisely, that everything that is printed has to be approved. Quality of the Japanese media outlets is disgusting.

As one of the leading mainstream Western journalists based in Tokyo recently confirmed: “The NHK or any other Japanese channel would never dare to air any idea that was not previously broadcasted by the CNN, BBC or FOX TV.”

But Japan “educates” tens of thousands of Southeast Asians, and “communications” is one of the most popular subjects.

“Japan does not have its own foreign policy”, David McNeill, Professor at prestigious Sofia University in Tokyo, told me.

But it feels fit to educate Southeast Asian students in such fields as political science! One wonders, what exactly would those students learn? How to collaborate, how to bend forward, and how to kiss backsides of the West?

*

It is all truly shameful, pathetic end of Japan’s “glory”.

Ruling elites and their nationalism ... Not Japanese nationalism, but Western!

No wonder, the U.S. occupation was based on the scrubbing and polishing of the old Japanese imperialist, fascist cadres, and putting them back to the top of the hierarchy. After all, the U.S. and Japanese imperialism have always had plenty in common.

But could any country survive, stand for decades on such disgraceful foundations!


Photo: Andre Vltchek
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The Bank Of Japan - Ringing In The Endgame?
« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2016, 07:16:54 PM »
http://seekingalpha.com/article/3849966-bank-japan-ringing-endgame

The Bank Of Japan - Ringing In The Endgame?

By Pater Tenebrarum

Let's Do More of What Doesn't Work


Summary

Over the past four years, the BoJ has thrown all remaining caution to the wind, with the declared goal of reviving Japan's economy and creating an annual "inflation" rate of 2%. However, it seems now that even that was not enough just yet!

The BoJ has certainly succeeded in devaluing the yen's external value and impoverishing Japan's citizens accordingly. It has also created a short-term windfall for people buying Japanese stocks.

After assuring everyone that the BoJ saw no need to add to its already enormous debt monetization program, Mr. Kuroda seems to have been convinced by recent market volatility that it was time to move on from an insane monetary policy to even more insane monetary policy.

It appears to us that the ever more desperate monetary policy measures adopted by the BoJ are coming closer and closer to crossing a point of no return. In other words, the BoJ seems to be entering what is popularly known as the "Keynesian endgame".

more...
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Japan In Turmoil: Stocks, USDJPY, Bond Yields Collapse
« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2016, 08:47:36 PM »
Sayonara Nippon

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http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-02-08/japanese-10y-yield-hits-zero-first-time-ever-yen-strongest-2014-stocks-crash

Japan In Turmoil: Stocks, USDJPY, Bond Yields Collapse

Japan In Turmoil: Stocks, USDJPY, Bond Yields Collapse

Tyler Durden's picture




 

The total and utter failure of The BoJ continues to accelerate...

  • *JAPAN 10-YEAR GOVERNMENT BOND YIELD FALLS BELOW ZERO FIRST TIME

 

Stocks have crashed the most since Black Monday erasing all QQE2 gains..

 

With Japanese Bank stocks  leading the way, now down 25% since NIRP was unleashed (and 32% since the start of the year)...

  • *NOMURA EXTENDS DECLINE, FALLS AS MUCH AS 12%

 

And USDJPY is in freefall...

*  *  *

As we detailed earlier..

Following earlier comments from yet another Japanese talking head that deflation will be fixed any day now, the Japanese bond curve continues to collapse with yields hitting record lows across the entire spectrum. Most notably, 10Y JGBs - which were trading 24bps before BoJ NIRP - just traded with a 0bp handle for the first time ever, ready to join Switzerland as the only nations with negative  rates at 10Y. As bonds rally, and JPY surges to strongest since 2014, so Japanese stocks are crashing (NKY down 1000 points from intraday highs).

Bond yields are plunging...

  • *JAPAN 10-YEAR GOVERNMENT BOND YIELD FALLS TO ZERO FOR 1ST TIME
  • *JAPAN'S 5-YEAR YIELD FALLS TO RECORD -0.205%

And stocks are crashing as USDJPY tumbles...

  • *YEN CLIMBS PAST 115 PER DOLLAR TO STRONGEST SINCE 2014

 

Jose Canseco will not be happy.

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http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-04-17/japans-economy-grinds-halt-after-earthquake-paralyzes-critical-supply-chains

Japan's Economy Grinds To A Halt After Earthquake Paralyzes Critical Supply Chains

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 04/17/2016 11:42 -0400

    Abenomics Apple Global Economy Japan Nikkei None Recession Reuters Toyota



Earlier today Toyota was one of many Japanese companies to announce that it will suspend most car production across Japan as a result of critical supply chain disruptions caused by the recent destructive earthquake and numerous aftershocks. All of the major assembly lines will be shut down across its four directly-run plants, and Toyota will be halting production in stages at other group companies as well.

According to the Nikkei Asian Review, most of the Toyota group in Japan will be effectively shut down through at least the end of this upcoming week, with a production loss of as many as 50,000 vehicles, including brands such as Prius, Lexus, and Land Cruiser.

"Decisions regarding recommencement of operations at plants in Japan will be made on the basis of availability of parts," the company said in its announcement.

It isn't just Toyota.

Numerous other manufacturers also announced extended stoppages due to damage to factories. More details from Reuters:

    Honda Motor said it would keep production suspended at its motorcycle plant near the quake-hit city of Kumamoto in southern Japan through Friday, though Nissan Motor Co 7201.T said it would resume operations at its plants north of the epicenter from Monday.
    Sony Corp said production would remain halted at its image sensor plant in Kumamoto, as the electronics giant assessed structural and equipment damage. But the company said it had resumed full operations at its plants in nearby Nagasaki and Oita which also produce the sensors - used in smartphone cameras, including Apple Inc's AAPL.O iPhone.
    Semiconductor manufacturer Renesas Electronics Corp confirmed it had sustained damage to some equipment at its plant in Kumamoto which produces microcontroller chips for automobiles. Having suspended operations following the first earthquake on Thursday, the chipmaker said it would assess damage at the entire facility before deciding when to resume production.

The earthquakes on Thursday and Saturday, which killed at least 41 people, reflected the vulnerability of Japanese companies to supply chain disruptions caused by natural disasters, and also highlighted the "just in time" philosophy pioneered by Toyota and followed by many others.

The problem is when as a result of a massive unpredictable event, the supply chain grinds to a halt, so does the economy, which incidentally is a topic we covered back in 2012 when we presented a paper on "A Study In Global Systemic Collapse", where we showed just how little margin of error there is in global supply chains, and how quickly the global economy can devolve into pure chaos if an unanticipated, global event were to strike.

To be sure, as a result of the stoppages, Japan's GDP will take a substantial Q2 hit as firms such as Toyota are forced to shut down, dealing yet another blow to Abenomics; the good news is that this event may give U.S. carmakers an opportunity to burn through much of the piling up excess inventory that has been building up over time.

But the best news is for none other than Abe and Kuroda: with Japan soon facing another recession, which for those who are keeping count will be approximately the sixth in the past 7 years...

 

... at least Japan's authorities will have nature to blame it on, instead of the far more devastating than any Earthquake could ever possibly be Keynesian lunacy that is Abenomics.
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Japan’s Descent into Authoritarianism
« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2016, 12:48:42 AM »
Here come the Kamikazes...

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/4mTECUWP0Hk" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/4mTECUWP0Hk</a>

RE

http://www.globalresearch.ca/japans-descent-into-authoritarianism/5540977


Japan’s Descent into Authoritarianism
By Saul Takahashi
Global Research, August 14, 2016
Region: Asia
Theme: Media Disinformation, Police State & Civil Rights


The appointment of Tomomi Inada as Japan’s Defence Minister, and the lack of tough questioning of Inada from the domestic media, is yet another indicator of how far Japan is in its descent into authoritarian rule under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Inada is a longstanding rightwing extremist with a history of expressing nationalistic and militaristic views. She said in 2006 that the objective of schooling must be to raise “elites” who would sacrifice their lives for their country. Regarding the infamous Yasukuni shrine, where it is said that the souls of soldiers fallen in battle rest, Inada believes that Japanese must pray at the shrine to “vow they will be next” in dying for the nation. In 2011, she argued that Japan should develop nuclear weapons. Yet, these chilling statements were barely even reported on in the mainstream media upon Inada’s appointment, essentially giving her a free pass.

A muzzled press

Indeed, this situation is not new, as the Japanese press has been effectively muzzled. Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have spent years exerting overt pressure on the left of centre Japanese press to refrain from ‘biased’ coverage, i.e. any commentary that deviates from the government position. The LDP has summoned TV directors to their HQ to chew them out, and several prominent journalists critical of the Abe’s policies were replaced in a short span of time, in circumstances many view as suspicious. Before the 2014 elections, the LDP sent a threatening letter to media outlets demanding ‘impartial’ coverage, and in 2016, the Minister response for broadcast regulation stated in parliament that licenses could be revoked if programming was not ‘politically neutral’.

The message is clear: tow the line, or else. International experts have sounded alarm bells: Japan has been in free-fall in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index published every year by Reporters without Borders, plummeting from a respectable 11th place in 2011 to 72nd place in 2016. In April, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression stated in April that ‘a significant number of journalists …  [felt] intense pressure from the government, abetted by management, to conform their reporting to official policy preferences’.

Abe’s efforts at silencing the press bore fruit during the recent Upper House election, in July. Even by the normally docile standards of the Japanese press, commentary was neutered in the extreme. Normally left of centre newspapers bent over backwards to present ‘both sides’. Political debate programs were notably fewer than in previous elections, and what little commentary there was was shunted to the end of news programmes. One could even have been forgiven for forgetting there was an election campaign in train. Meanwhile, right of centre media outlets have become Abe cheerleaders, trumpeting the duboius triumphs of so-called ‘Abenomics’, and the alleged security threat posed by China. In this situation, it is little wonder that the LDP emerged victorious in July.

Abe’s efforts at stifling freedom of expression do not end with the media: state schools, where teacher unions have traditionally been left leaning, have also been targeted. It is commonplace now for teachers who refuse to stand or sing the national anthem to be subject to formal discipline, and thought police in some schools even check that teachers are actually singing the lyrics (as opposed to just mouthing them). The LDP recently posted a web based form on its site asking for concrete reports on ‘biased’ teachers who ‘attempt to propagate a particular ideology in class’ (the example in the narrative was of a teacher who expressed opposition to the war bills). Though the government denies this, plans reportedly even exist to grade primary students on their patriotism.

Constitutional reform and militarism abroad

It is no secret that Abe longs to change Japan’s pacifist Constitution – and the recent elections give him the required 2/3 of the seats in both houses to initiate a referendum on Constitutional reform. Abe did his utmost to present the recent election as a referendum on his economic policies, avoiding the controversial topic of Constitutional reform. Nevertheless, Abe announced immediately after the election that he will initiate the debate at the next parliament, to start this autumn.

The longstanding desire of both Abe and the LDP to do away with the pacifist Article 9, which “forever renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes”, has been reported on both domestically and internationally. However, in many ways, Abe has managed to weaken Article 9 to the extent that it is almost irrelevant. In the summer of 2015, Abe ignored large scale protests throughout the country and bulldozed through parliament legislation that allows the government unprecedented freedom to engage in military interventions abroad – hitherto almost unthinkable in pacifist postwar Japan. The government made no secret that the legislation would enable Japanese military to participate in US interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere, without the adoption of special legislation as has been required. Coupled with legislation strengthening government secrecy – also rammed through parliament over cries of protests and expressions of international concern – Abe could now potentially send the military abroad without giving parliament any serious explanation.

Abe has also discarded the long standing government prohibition on arms exports. With no public consultation to speak of, Japan has become the world’s latest merchant of death. Abe has personally been extremely proactive in promoting Japanese arms sales as an engine for growth (though this has as of yet been met with limited success). It recently came to light that the government had agreed with the Government of Israel on joint development of drone weapon technology, assuring Japan’s participation in the oppression of the Palestinian people. Indeed, commentators close to Abe have heaped praise on Israel, calling it a model of advanced democracy and swooning over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ‘masculinity’.

Setting the stage for domestic oppression

In reality, Abe’s fixation on Constitutional reform is not confined to Article 9. As history has shown (in Japan and elsewhere), military escapades abroad come with tools for internal oppression, to stifle dissent – and it is such tools that the LDP has in mind. The LDP’s draft revised Constitution (which, since its publication in 2012, has received almost no attention in the mainstream Japanese media) is a model for despots and dictators everywhere. The LDP’s draft Constitution is not aimed at proscribing the limits of government prerogative: rather, it is the people whose rights would be restricted, while authorities enjoy unfettered power.

Clear and unambiguous language prohibiting torture in the current Constitution would be trashed under the LDP’s revisions – a clearly worrying sign, given the ongoing reports of systematic torture of criminal suspects at the hands of the Japanese police. Indeed, all of the extensive human rights safeguards in the current Constitution are essentially done away with, under a blanket restriction that the people “must understand that freedom and rights are accompanied by responsibilities and obligations” and that the exercise of rights ‘must never oppose the public interest or public order’. Promotional material published by the LDP says that “’Public order’ means the ‘social order’, and refers to a peaceful social life. It is obvious that individuals claiming their rights should not cause inconveniences for the social life of others.” The vague notion of a “peaceful social life” is particularly worrying, as senior LDP politicians have called peaceful demonstrations against government policy “a form of terrorism”. Indeed, Abe has suggested that he might start with proposing Articles to allow the government to declare a state of emergency, which could allow rights to be restricted practically at will.

Other LDP material, published in a manga format, dismisses the current Constitution as “individualistic”, arguing that “just because you have fundamental human rights doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want … if everybody acted selfishly, society would fall apart.” LDP material also lies about Japan’s legal obligations under international human rights law, suggesting that international law allows for the kind of sweeping restrictions in the LDP draft.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, none of this should come as a surprise. Though rarely reported on domestically, Abe (and most of the politicians he has appointed to successive cabinets) has well documented ties with the Nippon Kaigi, a shadowy group of right wing extremists that advocate for a return to the glory of empire and the doing away with “Western” values (e.g. individual rights and gender equality). The reigning Emperor, a committed pacifist by all accounts, visibly had shivers up his spine at an event in April 2013 when Abe and other conservative politicians greeted him with loud cries of ‘tennou heika banzai’ (long live the Emperor), the fascist war cry of the 1930s (an incident also mainly ignored by the mainstream Japanese media). The signs are ominous indeed.

Left of centre commentators whisper that Japan is heading towards the full blown fascism of the 1930s. What may be more likely is a form of authoritarian government (ala Turkey or Russia), where oppression becomes the norm behind the façade of democratic institutions, such as sham elections and a subservient press. Either way, in the absence of a fundamental change of direction, the future of Japanese democracy looks bleak.

Saul Takahashi is a human rights lawyer and activist based in Tokyo. He has worked for Amnesty International in Tokyo and in London, and also for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Palestine.

 
The original source of this article is Global Research
Copyright © Saul Takahashi, Global Research, 2016
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A Generation in Japan Faces a Lonely Death
« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2017, 03:09:55 AM »
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/30/world/asia/japan-lonely-deaths-the-end.html

A Generation in Japan Faces a Lonely Death


A huge government apartment complex in Tokiwadaira, Japan, has become known for lonely deaths. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

TOKIWADAIRA, Japan — Cicadas, every Japanese schoolchild knows, lie underground for years before rising to the earth’s surface in summer. They climb up the nearest tree, where they cast off their shells and start their short second lives. During their few days among us, they mate, fly and cry. They cry until their bodies are found on the ground, twitching in their last moments, or on their backs with their legs pointing upward.

Chieko Ito hated the din they made. They had just started shrieking, as they always did in early summer, and the noise would keep getting louder in the weeks to come, invading her third-floor apartment, making any kind of silence impossible. As one species of cicadas quieted down, another’s distinct cry would take over. Then, as the insects peaked in numbers, showers of dead and dying cicadas would rain down on her enormous housing complex, stopping only with the end of summer itself.

“You hear them from morning to evening,” she sighed.

Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

It was the afternoon of her 91st birthday, and unusually hot, part of a heat wave that had community leaders worried. Elderly volunteers had been winding through the labyrinth of footpaths, distributing leaflets on the dangers of heatstroke to the many hundreds of residents like Mrs. Ito who lived alone in 171 nearly identical white buildings. With no families or visitors to speak of, many older tenants spent weeks or months cocooned in their small apartments, offering little hint of their existence to the world outside their doors. And each year, some of them died without anyone knowing, only to be discovered after their neighbors caught the smell.

The first time it happened, or at least the first time it drew national attention, the corpse of a 69-year-old man living near Mrs. Ito had been lying on the floor for three years, without anyone noticing his absence. His monthly rent and utilities had been withdrawn automatically from his bank account. Finally, after his savings were depleted in 2000, the authorities came to the apartment and found his skeleton near the kitchen, its flesh picked clean by maggots and beetles, just a few feet away from his next-door neighbors.

The huge government apartment complex where Mrs. Ito has lived for nearly 60 years — one of the biggest in Japan, a monument to the nation’s postwar baby boom and aspirations for a modern, American way of life — suddenly became known for something else entirely: the “lonely deaths” of the world’s most rapidly aging society.

“4,000 lonely deaths a week,” estimated the cover of a popular weekly magazine this summer, capturing the national alarm.

To many residents in Mrs. Ito’s complex, the deaths were the natural and frightening conclusion of Japan’s journey since the 1960s. A single-minded focus on economic growth, followed by painful economic stagnation over the past generation, had frayed families and communities, leaving them trapped in a demographic crucible of increasing age and declining births. The extreme isolation of elderly Japanese is so common that an entire industry has emerged around it, specializing in cleaning out apartments where decomposing remains are found.

“The way we die is a mirror of the way we live,” said Takumi Nakazawa, 83, the chairman of the resident council at Mrs. Ito’s housing complex for the past 32 years.

Summer was the most dangerous season for these lonely deaths, and Mrs. Ito wasn’t taking any chances. Birthday or not, she knew that no one would call, drop a note or stop by to check on her. Born in the last year of the reign of Emperor Taisho, she never expected to live this long. One by one, family and friends had vanished or grown feeble. Ghosts, of the living and dead, now dwelled all around her in the scores of uniform buildings she and her husband had rushed to in 1960, when all of Japan seemed young.

“Now every room is mine, and I can do as I please,” Mrs. Ito said. “But it’s no good.”


Chieko Ito, 91, has lived in her housing complex, or danchi, one of the biggest in Japan, for nearly 60 years. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

She had been lonely every day for the past quarter of a century, she said, ever since her daughter and husband had died of cancer, three months apart. Mrs. Ito still had a stepdaughter, but they had grown apart over the decades, exchanging New Year’s cards or occasional greetings on holidays.

So Mrs. Ito asked a neighbor in the opposite building for a favor. Could she, once a day, look across the greenery separating their apartments and gaze up at Mrs. Ito’s window?

Every evening around 6 p.m., before retiring for the night, Mrs. Ito closed the paper screen in the window. Then in the morning, after her alarm woke her at 5:40 a.m., she slid the screen back open.

“If it’s closed,” Mrs. Ito told her neighbor, “it means I’ve died.”

Mrs. Ito felt reassured when the neighbor agreed, so she began sending the woman gifts of pears every summer to occasionally glance her way.
The End

Articles in this series explore how we die and what it tells us about how we live.

    At His Own Wake, Celebrating Life and the Gift of DeathMay 28, 2017
    The Lost Children of TuamOct. 28, 2017

If her neighbor happened to notice the paper screen in daylight, the woman could promptly alert the authorities. Everything else had been thought out and taken care of in advance. On her 90th birthday, Mrs. Ito had filled out an “ending note” that organized her final affairs. The notes, which have become popular in Japan, help ensure a clean, orderly death. Mrs. Ito had also given away the tablets from the family’s Buddhist altar — the miniature headstones considered so precious that many Japanese would scoop them up before running out of a house on fire.

So many things in her apartment now reminded her of the dead. There were the paperbacks, hundreds of them jammed onto shelves, that her dying husband had told her to throw away after reading. The finely carved chest of drawers, which her daughter had carted away after getting married, sat there, too, returned decades ago when the young woman died. Tucked inside a cabinet were the books that Mrs. Ito had written herself, including a dry but exhaustive two-volume book about her life in the housing complex and a 224-page autobiography, all finished in a final burst of activity.

Mrs. Ito, meticulous as ever, had even left behind money to clean out her home once the day arrived. The only thing left to do was to wipe away the red coloring from her name, already engraved on the family headstone, to signify that she had finally joined her husband and daughter.

“Everybody around me has died, one after another, and I’m the only one left,” she said. “But when I think about death, I’m afraid.”
No One Knew Their Names


Ambulances are a frequent sight at the complex. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

The heat soon started taking its toll. By midsummer, two bodies were discovered in the complex — victims, it seemed, of the early heat wave. The first death occurred in Mrs. Ito’s section, where a woman detected the smell from the apartment below. Initially, she thought somebody had gotten a delivery of dried fish called kusaya. Then the stench intensified, especially on the balcony where she hung her laundry. None of the dead man’s neighbors knew him, though he had lived there for years. He was 67.

The second man’s body was found two days later. Again, the smell had become so intense that it had kept his next-door neighbor awake for three nights. The man was elderly, had lived there for years, and chatted about the cherry blossoms with his neighbors, but they didn’t know his name. The inside of his apartment, visible through a small ventilation window, was covered in trash. Green bottle flies hovered around the vent.

The building management tried to contain the smell, taping over every crevice — the edges of the men’s front doors, their letter flaps, even the locks. It was futile. The stench seeped out, filling hallways, stairways and homes.

Mrs. Ito kept busy, trying not to think about it. She took long walks outside the complex, which stretches across a Tokyo suburb for more than a mile, spreading out in the shape of a giant fan. She kept track of her steps on her cellphone, spent an hour every morning writing Buddhist sutras to her daughter and husband, and helped keep local forests clean with a volunteer group.

Every month, she attended the lunches that residents organized to keep the isolation at bay and reduce the risk of lonely deaths. At the gatherings, she had settled into a routine, always sitting at a table across from a man with wobbly legs and a big appetite, Yoshikazu Kinoshita. The two could hardly have been more different — her days were organized to the minute; he got out of bed only when he felt like it. But their conversations, which some might have dismissed as small talk, had acquired deep meaning.

“That’s the way I manage,” she said of her activities.
Continue reading the main story
Photo
Yoshikazu Kinoshita arriving at one of the monthly lunches for tenants who live alone. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

She spoke rapidly, in long sentences, with an unusual directness for someone of her generation. Even in uncomfortable moments, she never sought refuge in the vagueness of the Japanese language. For the rare occasions that words failed her, she kept voluminous proof of the life she had lived, cataloged exhaustively by year and subject. The photo books in her apartment were filled with black-and-white images of young families like hers. And bound in yellow covers, with titles in Mrs. Ito’s elegant calligraphy, were the books she had written, including the two-volume collection on her life in the housing complex: Tokiwadaira.

In the 1960s, the Japanese government built huge housing developments outside Tokyo and other cities, each holding thousands of young “salarymen” entrusted with rebuilding Japan’s postwar economy. The complexes — sprawling collections of buildings called danchi — introduced Japan to a Western structure of life centered on the nuclear family, breaking from the traditional multigenerational homes. The new apartments, seen as essential to Japan’s rebirth, had strict requirements. The monthly wages of tenants in Tokiwadaira had to be at least 5.5 times the rent, ensuring that only the most successful people got in.

Mrs. Ito’s husband, Eizo, worked at a top advertising agency. But competition to enter one of the danchi was so fierce that the couple had given up after 13 tries. Then a relative secretly submitted an application in their name for a place still under construction, on farmland an hour east of Tokyo.

Even before Shinto priests purified the soil and construction workers broke ground, Tokiwadaira was already drawing interest nationwide. The Japanese had never seen anything quite like it: around 4,800 apartments devouring a space so large that it was serviced by two train stations on the same line.
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Jiro Akiba for The New York Times

The Itos arrived in mid-December 1960, on the very first day that tenants were allowed in. It was a clear day, full of promise, with Mount Fuji visible in the distance from their third-floor balcony. Her 4-year-old stepdaughter, Mrs. Ito wrote in her autobiography, was “so happy that she ran around the apartment, drawing a complaint from their second-floor neighbor.”

Their new home was called a “3K” — three small rooms and a kitchen, with a bathroom and toilet. What struck Mrs. Ito wasn’t only the modern efficiency of the place, the concrete sturdiness that seemed capable of withstanding the strongest earthquakes, or the sun that came into every room. Peeking into the kitchen for the first time, she found the item that had, perhaps more than anything else, caused housewives to dream of life in the danchi: a sink, no longer made of tiles, but of sparkling stainless steel.

Her kitchen stood in the center of the apartment, not in a dark corner at the back of the house as in old Japanese homes. The kitchen’s centrality spoke of the new, elevated role of housewives. Like other privileged residents of the danchi, Mrs. Ito soon enjoyed the newest home appliances — a refrigerator, a washing machine and a black-and-white television set.

“We called them the Three Sacred Treasures,” Mrs. Ito said. The term, popular back then, was the burgeoning consumer society’s reinterpretation of the Three Sacred Treasures in Japan’s imperial mythology: the sword, the mirror and the jewel.

“We were happy,” Mrs. Ito said.
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A photograph of Mrs. Ito’s family, taken on New Year’s Day in 1972 in a park in the housing complex. From left: her husband, Eizo; Mrs. Ito; her daughter, Chizuko; and stepdaughter, Eriko.

After Mrs. Ito gave birth to a daughter a couple of years later, everything was settled. Her husband rode the packed train six days a week to Tokyo. She taught at a nursery school inside the complex, in charge of the Tulip Group. The danchi’s population of children swelled, just as it did all over Japan. In a few years, there were so many children that they collectively became known as Japan’s Second Baby Boom generation.

Every New Year, the family put on their kimonos for photos. They also took part in the annual sports days, a ritual of Japanese life in which children and parents compete in races and other events. In the summer, Mrs. Ito took her daughters to one of the danchi’s wading pools. In her photos, the pool is always full of water, always full of young mothers in modest one-piece bathing suits, always full of children. The housing complex even had its own song: “Burning with hope, full of health and strength, let’s rise all of us.”
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Mrs. Ito, top left, with Chizuko, in a yellow swim cap, and Eriko, in a white swim cap with black dots, at the danchi’s wading pool in the summer of 1967.
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Fallen twigs and dirt now litter the empty pool. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Mrs. Ito used to stand at her window, the one with the paper screen, and look down at the playground and sandboxes below. The children of the nearby buildings played there together, their shouts loudest during the summer. Now, no one played there. The children had mostly vanished, their jubilant cries replaced by the frequent annoying sirens of ambulances.

The fading danchi are no longer a symbol of the young families rebuilding Japan. Nearly half of Tokiwadaira’s residents are over 65. During a midsummer walk, Mrs. Ito pointed to the pool captured in her pictures decades ago. It was empty: a large circle, with fallen twigs and dirt littering its faded pale blue bottom.

“This is the pool, where my children used to swim,” Mrs. Ito said, suddenly growing quiet.

She stood in the deserted playground, slowly taking in a place that, to her, seemed more real in her photos than in the present day.

“It’s gone!” she said after a few seconds. “There was a jungle gym here before. I used to let them play on it. Now it’s gone. So many things are.”
‘Second Life’
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Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

When I first met Mrs. Ito, it barely occurred to me that no one else had called or visited that afternoon. Only weeks later did she tell me — excitedly, as if she had been waiting for me to ask — that her birthday had fallen on the day of my first visit.

Instead, she had simply handed me her book: “Chieko’s 53 years in Tokiwadaira danchi.” It was an encyclopedia of dates, names, events and photos spanning 394 pages. No one else had read it, and it wasn’t clear then, even to her, why she had gone through the considerable trouble of composing drafts in longhand, typing it up on her laptop and printing it out.

“Writing is such a hassle, so it’s strange, this need to write,” she said.

She was born into a family of storytellers. Her paternal great-grandfather was a celebrated professional narrator who traveled around the country, recounting episodes from Japan’s feudal history. He was known by the stage name Hogyusha Torin, and his works survive in the national library. Her grandfather, also a professional storyteller, lived with Mrs. Ito when she was a child. He would sit at her desk, marking up his texts and binding the folding fan that he used during his performances.

“Maybe it’s in my blood,” Mrs. Ito said.

In her book, Mrs. Ito broke her life in the danchi into two distinct parts. The first begins with her wedding and ends 32 years later with the deaths of her husband and daughter.

She gave the impression that her life — her true life — had ended with theirs, especially her daughter, of whom she often spoke in the present tense. Sometimes she would tell a joke or show a flash of anger at the mention of her daughter’s death. More often, she stared straight ahead.

Part two — subtitled “My Second Life” — focuses on friends, trips and goings on around the housing complex. Old friendships are renewed and new ones are made, though Mrs. Ito outlives them all.

As the weeks passed and the cicadas’ incessant cries became the backdrop to every conversation, Mrs. Ito ultimately concluded that she had started writing to break the solitude, so she wouldn’t forget. “Even the unhappy events,” she said. “Otherwise, everything is lost forever.”

After her husband and daughter died in 1992, Mrs. Ito’s “Second Life” began. By then, Tokiwadaira and Japan’s other danchi had lost much of their luster. Families preferred living in houses or condominiums. Aging childless couples and individuals gravitated to Tokiwadaira.

One of Mrs. Ito’s closest friends moved in after becoming a widow. They ran into each other at the local supermarket’s frozen foods section, so glad for the company that neither complained about the cold. “After that we became inseparable — that’s just the way I am,” Mrs. Ito said.

Years passed. The woman died, as did other friends, inside and outside the danchi. Her sister developed dementia. A brother became homebound. Even a younger brother now had trouble walking.

“I’ve been lonely for 25 years,” she said. “They’re the ones to blame for dying. I’m angry.”

At the monthly lunch for tenants who live alone, Mrs. Ito, a light eater, got into the habit of giving her tablemate, Mr. Kinoshita, half of her meal before she started. After learning that he liked reading, she lent him a few books. He began lending her some, and included some chocolate.

Once, he asked her to come to his place to retrieve a book.

“That’s when I found out that his place was full of garbage.”
A Moment of Glory
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Mr. Kinoshita, 83, moved into Tokiwadaira 14 years ago. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Mr. Kinoshita lived in a ground-floor “2DK” apartment — two rooms and a dine-in kitchen. Piles of old clothes, boxes, books, newspapers, empty food containers and heaps of trash blanketed the floor. A single open trail led from the bed to the toilet, passing by the only clean item in the apartment: a white T-shirt hanging from a shelf, still wrapped in the dry cleaner’s plastic.

Mr. Kinoshita was 83. His legs had grown weak. He used a “silver chair” that he rolled in front of him to steady himself. He left his apartment perhaps once a week.

After Mrs. Ito saw the state of his apartment, she alerted community leaders. Men who lived alone in the danchi, weakened by age and infirmity in apartments like that, were the most vulnerable. She learned that volunteers were already keeping an eye on him.

Months ago, after he had not been seen for a week, a volunteer went knocking on his door. There was no answer, but she could hear the television from inside. Thinking he was dead, the volunteer called the police. When Mr. Kinoshita finally woke up from a deep sleep, he was a little embarrassed, yet also relieved and maybe even a little happy that his existence had figured into someone’s thoughts.

“Thanks for your kindness,” Mr. Kinoshita liked to say in English, perhaps avoiding sentiments that were too hard to express in Japanese.

He had left Tokyo in his late 60s and moved into Tokiwadaira 14 years ago, just as the lonely deaths were becoming common. The year he moved in, Tokiwadaira recorded 15 of them. Today, volunteers have managed to reduce them to about 10 a year.

Mr. Kinoshita had lost everything before coming to the danchi. He had lost his company to bankruptcy and also the money he had borrowed from his sisters and brothers, who told him, “You’re the one who’s ruined the Kinoshita clan.” He had lost his house, and his second wife, who told him, “There’s no use staying with a husband who’d sell away our house.”

It would have been easy to see Mr. Kinoshita as just another victim of the collapse of Japan’s economic bubble. His company, I Love Industry, which worked as a subcontractor on underground construction projects — the “tail of a mouse,” he said — had ridden the country’s construction boom from the 1960s through the 1990s until public works contracts dried up.

Yet he had also enjoyed a moment of glory, one that he clung to the way Mrs. Ito clung to the Tokiwadaira in her books. During the construction of the Channel Tunnel, he had supplied a major contractor, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, with equipment — a reel for a hose — to help bore under the Strait of Dover.

Mr. Kinoshita’s large eyes lit up as he brought out his old business card, sketches of the equipment he had provided and photos of himself in his heyday: at a celebration at Kawasaki’s headquarters; on site under the Dover Strait; visiting tourist attractions in Paris during his sole visit to Europe.

There were talismans — a Eurotunnel key holder, which he held between his fingers and showed people, without ever letting go, as if he were afraid of losing it. He had commemorative medals of the tunnel’s construction, a rock fragment encased in plastic, and the T-shirt carefully preserved in dry-cleaning wrap. It had a blue and red circle with “Euro Tunnel” inside.
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Mr. Kinoshita’s Eurotunnel key holder and map of France. During the construction of the Channel Tunnel, he supplied a major contractor with equipment. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

From his foray in Europe, he had brought back a habit of sprinkling some French words into his speech, on top of the broken English he had picked up decades earlier from a college friend.

“All over Paris, I kept hearing, ‘Merci madame,’ ” he said. “I couldn’t wait to go back to Tokyo and say, ‘Merci madame.’ ”

Mr. Kinoshita took out a large black-and-white shot of himself in his 20s, working in a rice warehouse. Wearing only a loincloth that emphasized his sinewy frame and rodlike legs, he carried three rice bags on his shoulders, totaling 400 pounds. “When I was young,” he said in English.

He was born in Taiwan, part of Japan’s colonial empire back then. His family returned after World War II to southwestern Japan, where he ate the frogs he caught in rice fields. Even in the family’s poverty and his nation’s defeat, the adolescent Kinoshita caught glimpses of a bright future in Japan’s energy and youth.

“My generation had dreams,” said Mr. Kinoshita, who went on to study mechanical engineering.

He had never imagined that his decline — and Japan’s — could be so rapid. Corporate giants like Sharp were now being taken over by a company in Taiwan, Japan’s former colony, he said with bewilderment. In 2011, when Japan was hit by a terrible earthquake and tsunami, Mr. Kinoshita rose to his feet and steadied a cabinet from toppling over. Since then, the same legs that had supported the bags of rice could barely uphold his shrinking body.

The world he knew had shrunk. He went to a health club until last year. Sitting in the Jacuzzi helped his legs, and he liked it when women came into the tub. But one day he passed out in the Jacuzzi and an ambulance was called. He came to, refused to get into the ambulance, and never returned to the health club. Now, he went out only a few times a month — to the supermarket, or to the monthly lunches where he shared a table with Mrs. Ito.

His friendship with “Madame Ito” gave him energy, though she was the one who did most of the talking. “She’s very assertive, to the point where I can’t get a word in,” he said.
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He was touched that she gave him half of her lunch, and that she lent him books, though he had racier tastes. “I tend to prefer erotic books,” he said.

On a rare trip outside Tokiwadaira, Mr. Kinoshita took the train to Tokyo. He brought back Hershey’s chocolate bars for Mrs. Ito and for the volunteer who had come knocking on his door. Mr. Kinoshita called her “Madame Eleven.”

He was hoping to make copies of his Eurotunnel T-shirt for Madame Ito and Madame Eleven. He had bought a dozen during his trip to Europe, but the one in the dry-cleaning wrap was his last.
‘I Think They’ve Protected Me’
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Mrs. Ito waiting for a bus to visit the family grave. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

On July 24, the monthly anniversary of her daughter’s death, Mrs. Ito left her apartment early in the morning to visit the grave, following the same path she had taken for the past quarter-century. Tall and long-limbed for someone of her generation, she walked with a straight back, maintaining the posture of someone much younger. Wearing jeans and sneakers, she headed up a narrow sidewalk, nearly touching the cars stuck in morning traffic beside her.

The annual Obon festival of the dead was just a few weeks away, so Mrs. Ito also dropped by a local pear farmer and ordered midsummer fruit to be sent to her brothers and others, including the neighbor who looked up at the paper screen in her window.

She had never failed to visit the graves, even on cold winter mornings. But she had made a few concessions for age, visiting her husband and daughter twice a month until she turned 85, then once a month after that. She brought food, eating it next to her daughter. She spoke to her, recounting the events since her last visit. The cemetery was always quiet, except in summer when the cicadas appeared.

“I don’t tell her anything that might cause her to worry — I’ll never tell her any problems I might have,” Mrs. Ito said.

She picked up a bucket and filled it with water. With a white cloth, she gently washed her daughter’s black headstone. It rose nearly as tall as Mrs. Ito herself, who had lost more than two inches of her height to age.

“I can’t reach the back, so I do only the front,” she said, laughing.

She arranged the flowers she had brought, including lilies, her daughter’s favorite. She always avoided chrysanthemums. They were associated with death in Japan, and her daughter disliked them, anyway. She lit some sticks of incense, closed her eyes, put her hands together and bowed her head.

Speaking to her daughter and husband, Mrs. Ito believed, had kept her healthy. “At this age, usually, you can’t hear or see anymore, or you’ve lost your teeth. Everything. I think they’ve protected me.”

This belief — that the spirits of the dead remain part of the lives of the living — was rooted in the Buddhism that guides the Japanese on matters of death. Maintaining that link came by taking care of the family grave. But in an aging society with fewer children, the difficulty of the task has become a daily topic of conversation. “What do we do with our graves?” asked the same weekly magazine that tapped into the national anxiety over lonely deaths.

Some plots in the same row as Mrs. Ito’s daughter were showing the neglect: weeds growing out of crevices, threatening to invade headstones. Entire areas hidden under overgrown plants and small trees, covering the names of the dead. They were like the aging villages across Japan that, after the last inhabitants became too feeble or died, were being reclaimed by nature.
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Mrs. Ito at her husband’s family grave. Her name is already on the headstone. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Mrs. Ito’s daughter, Chizuko, had died at the age of 29. She had long been sickly, but when she died, Mrs. Ito waited outside the crematory as her husband went in.

“I just couldn’t watch my own daughter being put into the fire,” Mrs. Ito said.

It was her daughter’s death that had left her truly alone. If her daughter were alive, she would not have to ask her neighbor to watch the paper screen in her window. She wouldn’t have to send the pears every summer.

“If this child were here now,” she said, “there would be nothing to worry about.”

In keeping with Japanese custom, the dead often receive Buddhist names, which are engraved on their headstones. Once delivered from this world, they move on to the next, bearing new names as Buddhas themselves. That way, they will not mistakenly return to this world if the living happened to call them by their old names.

Mrs. Ito’s daughter, though, did not have a posthumous Buddhist name. The engraving on the headstone read: “According to the wishes of the deceased, she has become a flower and rests here.”

Sitting in Mrs. Ito’s apartment, I remembered that she had mentioned a collection of photo albums of her balcony. I asked to see it, and she immediately pulled out 11 slim albums cataloged with her typical precision.

I had expected balcony photos similar to those in her other collections: her young daughters sitting in an inflatable pool; or the portrait of her husband shown at his funeral, of him standing on the balcony on a rare snowy day.

But the photos in these albums were all of flowers, flowers that Mrs. Ito had kept on her balcony since her daughter’s death — amaryllises, geraniums, carnations, roses, morning glories, narcissuses, marigolds, every flower, it seemed, with the exception of chrysanthemums.

“I wonder,” she said earnestly, “why I took so many.”
Signs of Life
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Mr. Kinoshita’s apartment. Volunteers have kept an eye on him, as men who live alone there are vulnerable. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

To community leaders in the danchi, the powerful odors coming from the apartments of men like Mr. Kinoshita — of sweat, urine, stale food and garbage — were the reassuring smell of life. When that came out of the letter flap of an apartment, they knew no one was dead inside. It was, perhaps more precisely, the smell of somebody clinging to life, which Mr. Kinoshita carried with him whenever he went outside.

But as his legs weakened further, Mr. Kinoshita’s world shrank to the confines of his apartment. Then, as the garbage piled up, his apartment shrank to his bed, where he sat or lay during the midsummer weeks, usually dressed only in a loin cloth.

He had given up trying to clean. A social worker had visited this year, carting away a drafting machine used to design equipment for the Eurotunnel. But the garbage piled up again. When a cold kept him indoors over the summer, maggots appeared inside a bowl of unfinished instant curry on the floor.

The midsummer cries of the cicadas — “meeen, meeen, meeen” — echoed inside his apartment. Though they annoyed Mrs. Ito, they appealed to Mr. Kinoshita’s sense of the ephemeral.

“They cry desperately, they continue to cry as long as they’re alive,” Mr. Kinoshita said.

His favorite were the cicadas that appeared in late summer every year, singing “tsuku-tsuku boshi” and signaling the coming change in seasons. His eyes bulged with excitement when he heard them for the first time outside his window.

He was still a man of appetites, whether it was the lunch he accepted from Mrs. Ito, or the memory of intimacy. “When I was young,” he said.

One evening, while sitting on his bed, he put in his dentures and slipped on the shorts and shirt he wore when he left home. He was headed to a monthly music performance he regularly attended at a computer repair shop. It was the only event marked on his wall calendar that month.

At the shop, a singer began performing jazz standards. Her flirtatious voice and comments elicited small grunts of appreciation from Mr. Kinoshita. He tapped his fingers to the music.

During a break, the dozen mostly regular attendees spoke to one another, sharing food and drinks spread out on a large table. Mr. Kinoshita sat quietly in a corner, eating voraciously and drinking from the best bottle of whiskey.
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Mr. Kinoshita at a music event at a computer repair shop. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

“Grandpa, you have expensive tastes, don’t you?” the host said, loudly enough for everyone to hear.

Some of the attendees said they had never seen Mr. Kinoshita before, though he was a regular just like them. I remembered what a community leader had told me about the men at risk of lonely deaths. The leader, an active Buddhist with a philosophical bent, said that those men — cut off from much human contact — were ghosts and ciphers, using a Japanese word that, phonetically, meant both.

Perhaps the other regulars, all of them also elderly, had really never noticed Mr. Kinoshita. The exception was a man wearing a blue T-shirt with “The Coach” on it. He spoke briefly with Mr. Kinoshita, who told him about the Eurotunnel and showed him the key holder, his fingers never letting go.

By the last song, Mr. Kinoshita was facing a wall. He had turned around his chair, sinking into the music’s sweetness.

“Monsieur,” the man in the coach T-shirt said, tapping him tenderly on the shoulder, “it’s over.”
Nostalgia for a Golden Age
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Summer is the most dangerous season for lonely deaths. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

The housing complex in Mrs. Ito’s books and memories, like the other aging danchi across Japan, has become a strong object of nostalgia in recent years. Movies, books and blogs have proliferated, dissecting and celebrating various aspects of life in the danchi.

They were mostly fueled by a longing for a golden age in Japan’s postwar history, when the country, it seemed, was united in a vision of the future. But they depicted a world far removed from actual life in places like Tokiwadaira, where the present had broken from the past.

As it slipped into late summer, community leaders hoped there would be no more lonely deaths this season. Relatives of one of the dead men had stepped forward, hiring the professionals who clean out apartments where lonely deaths have occurred. Though weeks had passed, the door of the 67-year-old man who had died in Mrs. Ito’s section was still taped over and his smell remained in the stairs outside.

Showers of cicadas fell on Tokiwadaira. Their empty shells and dead bodies lay scattered everywhere. Mrs. Ito found them in the stairway outside her apartment. One lay in front of Mr. Kinoshita’s door.

With the Obon festival of the dead approaching, the supermarkets began selling Obon kits, which included thin wooden sticks, a little horse and a cow. When lit, the burning sticks guided ancestors back to this world on a galloping horse. After three days, the living sent the ancestors back to the other world, slowly, on the back of a cow. It was the annual reunion of the living and the dead.

Mrs. Ito had stopped celebrating Obon decades ago. In the danchi, she couldn’t light the sticks in front of her door, as her family had done in Tokyo. But the pears she had ordered were delivered, as they were every summer, just before Obon. Calls of thanks arrived, including one during her monthly visit to her husband’s grave.

“Hello? Who is this please? Eriko?” Mrs. Ito said, answering her cellphone in front of the grave.

Mrs. Ito and Eriko, her stepdaughter, rarely spoke. Mrs. Ito sent pears. Eriko sent her carnations on Mother’s Day. The phone call lasted a couple of minutes.

“But you take care. You’ll be 60 years old, soon enough. There’s no contact — I know, there are a lot of people. I even have great-grandchildren. Everybody’s busy, that’s why I imagine there’s no contact. Thanks for the carnations. All right, you take care of yourself.”

Mrs. Ito resumed cleaning the grave, pulling weeds and pouring water over the headstone where her name was engraved in red — the color of a living person who intended to enter that grave some day.

“When I die,” she said, “they can just take out the color.”

Her cremated remains would be buried under the headstone. Her possessions, even her exhaustively chronicled autobiographies, would almost certainly be incinerated.
A Neighbor to Watch Over Her
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Toyoko Sakai, 83, in her apartment. Mrs. Ito asked her to look out her window every day to check on her. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

It was a very short walk from Mrs. Ito’s home to the ground-floor apartment of her neighbor, Toyoko Sakai, 83, the woman tasked with looking at her window once a day.

Mrs. Ito lit a stick of incense and clasped her hands before the woman’s Buddhist altar. A portrait of Mrs. Sakai’s deceased husband sat in a frame between bouquets of flowers. A melon and a big round pear, one of the pears Mrs. Ito had sent her, sat below the portrait.

“Because you’re kind enough to look after me, I have to bring something,” Mrs. Ito said.

Mrs. Sakai, who was hard of hearing but had good eyes, had an unobstructed view of Mrs. Ito’s window on the third floor, making her a good choice to watch the paper screen.

Lately, though, Mrs. Sakai’s attention had been drawn to another building, to a fourth-floor apartment where garbage was piling up on the balcony.

“On the fourth floor,” she added, excitedly. “You can see it from here.”

Hiding her anxiety, Mrs. Ito redirected her neighbor to her apartment, making sure that she was not unduly distracted and was still keeping an eye on her window on the third floor.

“Yes, yes,” Mrs. Sakai said, looking out her window toward Mrs. Ito’s. “There, on the fourth floor.”

“The third floor,” Mrs. Ito reminded her again, gently correcting her neighbor. “I’m on the third floor.”

Mrs. Sakai, not hearing, went on, describing the window on the fourth floor.

“I’m on the third floor,” Mrs. Ito repeated in a louder voice.

“The third floor!” Mrs. Sakai said, finally understanding.

“The third floor, the one with the black net,” Mrs. Ito said, as the two women laughed at the possibility that Mrs. Sakai had been looking at the wrong window all along.
Final Preparations
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“Even if they engrave my name on a headstone,” Mr. Kinoshita said, “there’s nobody who will visit my grave.” Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

The Obon holidays had passed, as always, without a word from any of Mr. Kinoshita’s relatives. He had stayed mostly inside, reading a book that lay next to his pillow, “Men’s H. Women’s H” — H being slang for sex.

As the oldest male, Mr. Kinoshita should have been the one to look after the family grave, but he had relinquished the duty. He had no intention of entering the family grave. He had caused his sisters and brothers too many problems with his bankruptcy, he said.

He had a son from a first marriage that had ended when the boy was a toddler — “I may have neglected him.” They exchanged New Year’s cards. Years ago, Mr. Kinoshita recalled with a smile, his son wrote that he was enjoying being a father.

“Even if they engrave my name on a headstone,” he said, “there’s nobody who will visit my grave.”

Instead, he had registered with a medical school to donate his body after death. The school would take care of everything. Every fall, it would hold a memorial service at a Buddhist temple for Mr. Kinoshita and all other donors. It would clean out his apartment. His T-shirt and his key holder, perhaps like Mrs. Ito’s books, would be swallowed up in an incinerator.

He was just worried about dying a lonely death. His organs, after all, had to prove useful.

“If you tell them to come and get a rotten body for medical research,” he said, “they won’t come.”
The Harbingers of Autumn
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The Tokiwadaira danchi’s Bon dance in August. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

As it had for decades, Tokiwadaira held its Bon dance during the last weekend of August. The late summer evenings were already noticeably cooler.

Mrs. Ito seemed troubled. Her neighbor’s confusion over the window had unsettled her. It was clear, she said, that the woman was not reliable. A day passed and Mrs. Ito thought about it some more. Over the years, her neighbor had visited her home — on the third floor — so surely she must know where Mrs. Ito lived. It was, Mrs. Ito convinced herself, just a lapse.

A few days before the dance, Mrs. Ito got a phone call from her lunch companion, Mr. Kinoshita. After being cooped up in his apartment for what seemed like years, he couldn’t wait to go the dance and checked with Madame Ito to make sure of the date. She had stopped going decades ago, after her children grew up. When the danchi swelled with children, the dance was held in a large park, not in the small plaza where it was now taking place.

“This now,” she said, “is nothing.”

People began gathering after sunset. They danced in circles around a stage in the middle of the plaza, illuminated by hanging red and white lanterns.

Mr. Kinoshita slowly pushed his silver chair through the crowd, resting on a bench under an elm tree. He faced away from the women dancing on the stage, the ones wearing the kimonos he had longed to see, just as he had turned away from the jazz singer. When introduced to someone new, he simply said, “The only thing I have left is the Eurotunnel.”

It was getting dark. Crickets were singing, the harbingers of autumn in Japan. Deeper into the danchi, toward Mrs. Ito’s apartment, the door of the dead 67-year-old man was still taped over, the smell refusing to disappear. Deeper still, past the deserted pool and the playground where her daughter used to play, Mrs. Ito’s window was visible, faintly, in the night.

The paper screen was closed, waiting for her to slide it back open in the morning. ☐
Continue reading the main story
Photo
The paper screen in Mrs. Ito’s window. Credit Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Kantaro Suzuki contributed reporting.

Produced by Craig Allen, David Furst, Megan Specia and Gaia Tripoli

A version of this article appears in print on November 30, 2017, on Page F1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Lonely Death. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe
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Offline K-Dog

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Re: Official Japanese Sushi Thread
« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2017, 08:33:06 AM »
This article is long but well worth reading.  Perhaps it could lead a thread.  'Death in the age of Collapse'.  It is long, some I skimmed looking for content, but only a few paragraphs at a time here and there.  Having all the pictures from the original would help anchor it all together.  When I finished reading here I looked at the original.

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In the George Jetson future nobody dies. 



In our future everybody dies.  As collapse quickens more and more will disappear in isolation.  Slow lonely deaths surrounded by garbage will become common in America as baby-boomers expire.  But as they expire will their impossible dreams also expire with them or will fairy-tails which define American life continue to be believed?  We and what we have is going to be burned and buried but our foolishness will endure!

For a while.



Under ideal conditions of temperature and pressure the organism will grow without limit.

Online RE

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Re: Official Japanese Sushi Thread
« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2017, 08:57:17 AM »
This article is long but well worth reading.  Perhaps it could lead a thread.  'Death in the age of Collapse'.  It is long, some I skimmed looking for content, but only a few paragraphs at a time here and there.  Having all the pictures from the original would help anchor it all together.  When I finished reading here I looked at the original.

In the George Jetson future nobody dies. 

In our future everybody dies.  As collapse quickens more and more will disappear in isolation.  Slow lonely deaths surrounded by garbage will become common in America as baby-boomers expire.  But as they expire will their impossible dreams also expire with them or will fairy-tails which define American life continue to be believed?  We and what we have is going to be burned and buried but our foolishness will endure!

For a while.

I am one of those old guys who will die alone in a Goobermint subsidized apartment complex.

There are other places I might have preferred to take my final walk to the Great Beyond, like perhaps on sailboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or a cabin on a lake in the Yukon Territory, but in both cases I would have chosen to be alone there too.  I don't think this is negative or depressing, it's a lifetime choice I made and I am happy with it.  I feel sorry for married people, especially if they have children.  Their suffering will be magnified by the number of loved ones they will have to watch die off.

I am quite comforatable now with my Death Plans as I have arranged them, assuming all are followed through with properly.  I leave behind my Tombstone to mark my time walking the Earth in this iteration of my Immortal Soul.  I leave behind my intellectual property, all I have written for more than a decade preserved as best I can for Alien Archaeologists or a future species of the Genus Homo a little wiser than our own.  Or maybe it just sits inside a stone until the SUN goes Red Giant, it doesn't matter.  It is what my life amounted to for the time I had to walk the earth this time.

As it is, I will die in a one bedroom apartment in the Matanuska-Susitna River Valley of Alaska.  It is a good place to die.

RE
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