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Article Japan: Legal Aspects of Missing Elderly Persons

(Aug. 31, 2010) Since the oldest man on Tokyo's resident record was found on July 29, 2010, to have been dead for more than 30 years, municipal governments throughout Japan have been checking on the whereabouts of centenarians in their jurisdictions. (Justin McCurry, Japan Launches Nationwide Search for Centenarians, Guardian (London) (Aug. 3, 2010), As of August 14, the total number of centenarians whose whereabouts are unknown is 281. (100 sai ijo fumei 281 nin [281 Missing Centenarians], KYODO NEWS (Aug. 14, 2010),

In some cases, children or grandchildren of the missing elderly knew that their relatives were dead and hid that fact in order to keep receiving pensions or other benefits. In the case of the 111-year-old man listed in the record, his daughter and granddaughter were arrested on August 27, on a charge of fraud. (“111 sai” chōjo to mago musume, sagi yōgi de taiho [The First Daughter and a Granddaughter of “111 Year-Old” Arrested on Fraud Charges], YOMIURI NEWSPAPER (Aug. 27, 2010),

More relatives in other cases will reportedly be arrested. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) directed the Japan Pension Service to cooperate with municipal governments in order to figure out who the missing are and to suspend pension payments to them. (Pension Management Director, MHLW, Shi-chō-son ga haaku site iru yukue fumei kōreisha e no taiō ni tsuite [Regarding Measures Against Missing Elderly Whom Municipal Governments Recognized] (Aug. 12, 2010),

In many missing elderly cases, the family members do not know the elderly person's whereabouts or whether he or she is alive. Municipal governments have decided to delete the resident records of missing elderly persons if their residences are not found after a search. (KYODO NEWS, supra.) Under the Basic Resident Registration Law, municipal governments can delete resident records when they find that records do not match the facts. (Basic Resident Registration Law, Law No. 81 of 1967, as amended, art. 8.)

While the search for missing elderly citizens was being conducted, it was discovered that the deaths of many old people have not been recorded in family registers. All Japanese nationals are recorded in a family register, which is separate from resident registration. (Family Register Law, Law No. 224 of 1947, as amended, art. 6.) Because the address of a resident listed in the resident record is forwarded to his family register, the two registries are connected. The municipal government that has jurisdiction over a family's honseki keeps the record. Honseki used to mean the place where the family has its roots, but the Family Register Law does not put limitations on the place of honseki.

The family register is not the basis for government functions, such as taxation, health insurance, pensions, or school districts, so there is little concern about fraud in connection with it. It is, however, an official proof of identity, and one cannot obtain a driver's license or a passport without a certified copy of it. The Family Register Law obligates certain people, i.e., a family member or a landlord, to report deaths. If a death is not reflected in the register for some reason and there is no one who is obligated to report it, the municipal governments must record the death, after receiving the approval of the local Legal Affairs Bureau. (Id., art. 24, ¶ 2.) As of August 27, 2010, the oldest person registered in Japan whose death was not recorded, but who undoubtedly has been dead for a long time, was 200 years old. Municipal governments announced that they would move to record the deaths of people who are assumed to be dead because of old age. (Nagasaki de “200 sai” [“200 Year-Old” in Nagasaki], YOMIURI NEWSPAPER (Aug. 27, 2010),

Japan's record of the highest life expectancy in the world for women and high life expectancy for men is not affected by the findings on missing centenarians. The calculation of life expectancy is based on the national census, not resident records or family registers. In addition, centenarians are not included in the calculation, because they are very exceptional. (Yukako Fukushi, Kōreisha no shozai fumei zokushutsu de heikin jumyō wa chijimu no? [Will Life Expectancy Be Shorter Because of Missing Elderly?], YOMIURI NEWSPAPER (Aug. 17, 2010),

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