TOKYO — Nearly 200 Japanese centenarians are missing, officials said Thursday, with the total likely to rise amid a nationwide search after the discovery of the 30-year-old corpse of a man registered as aged 111.
In the western city of Kobe alone, the whereabouts of 105 out of 847 centenarians were unknown as of the end of July, a city official said.
"The city launched an investigation on the condition of the 105 people," the Kobe city official said -- in addition to 22 others who have not accessed nursing or medical insurance in recent years.
Those unaccounted-for include people who could be older than the current officially recognised oldest woman in Japan, 113-year-old Chiyono Hasegawa, who lives in the southern Saga prefecture.
They include one supposedly 125-year-old woman.
The sheer number of missing has raised fears that Japan's current welfare system could be easily exploited by relatives, after officials visiting Sogen Kato on his 111th birthday instead found his mummified 30 year-old remains.
Police are investigating the late Kato's relatives -- who claimed he had retreated to his room to become "a living Buddha" -- for fraud because the government had kept paying a pension into the man's bank account.
A total of 9.5 million yen (109,000 dollars) in widower's pension payments had been deposited since his wife died six years ago, and some of the money had recently been withdrawn, reports said.
Local government officials have fanned out for face-to-face meetings with people registered as aged over 100 -- of whom fast-greying Japan, with its world-beating life expectancies, had more than 40,000 at last count.
In city of Osaka, 64 out of 857 centenarians are currently missing. Officials on Thursday confirmed that a man who was registered as being 127 had been dead since 1966.
The southwestern city of Kitakyushu also said it could not confirm the whereabouts of 10 centenarians.
A government report said in July that Japan's average life expectancy set a world-beating 86.44 years for women while men's average life expectancy came fifth globally with 79.59 years.
When asked if the revelations of "missing" centenarians could affect the life-expectancy rate, a health ministry official said the rate is calculated using national census data, whereas local communities and healthcare bodies are responsible for maintaining records of centenarians.
Japan has a tradition of giving birthday gifts to centenarians, but often the presents are handed to family members, and workers are unable to confirm whether or not the elderly person has received them.
In another case of a missing centenarian, officials found that Fusa Furuya, who had been listed as Tokyo's oldest woman at 113, has not been seen for about half a century according to her 79-year-old daughter.
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