Japan is well known for a lot of things, like its stellar food, obsession with tiny objects, wacky game-shows, and cutting edge technology. It's also home to beautiful landscapes, like this one in Nagano-ken. But in some ways, death is dealt with uniquely.
The Aokigahara Forest, for example, is one of the most popular suicide destinations in the entire world. It's thought that more than a hundred people have successfully killed themselves each year in the Forest. Japan has not release the exact number of bodies discovered in the Forest. In the winding, dense forest, it's difficult to discover a body. It's possible that someone committing suicide would never be discovered.
In Japan, for good reason, places where people have died are considered to be bad luck. Real estate agencies in Japan call buildings where a death has occurred "jiko bukken," which means "incident buildings," but is also similar phrasing for their term used to describe when someone has jumped in front of a train. People who cannot afford the rent of an area normally jump at the chance to live in such rooms - they go for about half the market rate.
Where real estate agencies must sell the rooms, other companies must clean the rooms. Miwa Kojima is an employee of one such company, the ToDo-Company. And in the End-of-Life Industry Exhibition in Tokyo, she showcases tiny replicas of what those rooms looked like before they were cleaned.
Often times, the scene that those first to the apartments of the deceased walk into are sad and gruesome. Typically, those who pass away in apartments aren't discovered for some time - often a few months. The room, in other words, is not a pretty picture.
Those who passed away alone in their rooms were often suffering from severe mental illness, and their rooms were a reflection of that fact. Trash is strewn everywhere, and everything is in a state of neglect. That's what Kojima replicates in her miniature displays.
When asked the point of creating the scene of the death, the company replied that pictures just don't do the rooms justice. A flat photograph doesn't capture the dimensions of the experience. The impact was much more intense when recreated in three dimensional form.
She also said that one man had died on a futon in one of the rooms. The only reason that the room was investigated was because the water company started to wonder why no water had been used in the apartment. It had taken five months to discover his body.
The company also adds that is does a very important service, and indeed it does. Sparing the family from having to see their deceased loved ones in the condition they were in is their mission. Even if those families rarely talked or hadn't seen their deceased in years.
The reality of the situation is a sad one, but Kojima turned it into art that can help create awareness for anyone who views it. Perhaps, faced with the unfortunate state of the rooms, people will be more inclined to check in on their loved ones. It also paints a powerful picture of the effect of mental illness on living conditions.
Along the lines of honoring their dead, the Lastel Hotel is a place where you might not want to stay the night. It's a hotel where people can check in dead bodies. Friends and family can come visit the hotel day or night to pay their respects and deliver flowers or other trinkets. Other times, they're used to store the bodies until a crematorium has an open availability. The price to store a body? $157 per day.
Toru Koremura is another worker whose job it is to clean up rooms where people have died unnoticed. One such person was Haruki Watanabe, who was only sixty years old when he passed. He was unnoticed for an entire three months until the landlord noticed that the man had stopped paying his rent. No one ever called to claim the body.
As shocking as these cases may seem, they're not entirely rare. One man, Sogen Kato, was believed to be the oldest man living in Tokyo. But when the authorities arrived to congratulate him, they found his dead mummified body lying in his bed. His family likely knew about his death for the entire time. He may have been dead for thirty years.