A 23-year-old former nursing home worker has confessed to the murder of three of the facility’s residents, a gruesome crime that is shedding light on rampant abuse of elders in Japan’s overpopulated nursing homes.
The Japan Times identifies the man as Hayato Imai, arrested this week for the November 2014 death of 87-year-old Tamio Ushizawa.
Ushizawa reportedly fell from a fourth floor veranda during Imai’s shift. While initially denying any involvement in the death, Imai subsequently admitted to pushing him off the balcony and confessed to killing two other residents who also “fell off” balconies to their deaths. While not identified by name, police have described the other two victims as 86-year-old and 96-year-old women. Kanagawa Prefectural Police have only charged Imai for one murder so far, however. Both deaths also occurred in 2014.
The Times notes an admission by police that it took almost two years to charge Imai because they simply did not put much effort into investigating the deaths of the elderly: “The police admitted Tuesday their initial investigation had been lax, saying they did not conduct forensic autopsies on the three elderly residents because they did not believe at the time the deaths were linked to criminal activity.” Imai became a suspect upon being fired in May 2015, after getting caught stealing from nursing home residents.
Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper describes Imai as “an attention-seeker and a bit of a blowhard” who had given coworkers the impression of being a dedicated worker “with a strong sense of justice.” He reportedly was involved in other cases of abuse of the elderly at the Kanagawa nursing home.
Japan has faced a severe problem with nursing home abuse over the past decade. A government report this month suggests that the number of confirmed cases of abuse of nursing home residents almost doubled between 2012 and 2014, with 300 cases in the latter year. Eighty percent of these cases involved residents with dementia, and about 64 percent of cases involved physical abuse. Forty-three percent reported verbal harassment, with others citing being denied care, ignored, or tied down to prevent them from freely wandering within their facilities.
A government survey a year earlier found that one-fifth of the nation’s nursing homes “have admitted that abuse or suspected abuse occurred” in those two years. Asahi notes that these statistics may be significantly lower than the actual number of abuse cases, as “75 percent of those contacted in the survey failed to respond.”
Reuters reported nearly a decade ago, in 2007, a massive spike in the number of reports of such abuse in Japan. Officials recorded ten times the number of cases of abuse in nine months of 2006 than they did in all of 2005.
The epidemic of abuse in nursing homes is closely tied to the surging elderly population among the Japanese. Japan’s nursing homes currently have 530,000 people on waiting lists to be interned, living with family who often have to make career sacrifices to take care of their relatives until the government can aid them. As of 2015, 25 percent of Japan’s population is over 65 years old. Bloomberg reports that “Japan’s cost to care for the elderly is slated to more than double to 19.8 trillion yen ($167 billion yen) in 2025 from 2012.”
Those being improperly cared for can also become a burden on the government. In addition to criminal cases involving young people abusing the elderly, Japan’s National Police Agency reported that, in the first half of 2015, they arrested 3,000 more elderly suspects than teens.
Many of these crimes involve an elderly person killing his or her spouse as a means to end the suffering of crippling disease or pain. In a case that rose to international fame in March, a septuagenarian man killed his wife because he was “too tired” and confessed to police, “I wanted to take my own life, too.” His wife was in his care, and they lived alone together. In June, a 93-year-old man was arrested for strangling his wife to death after she allegedly told him she “didn’t want to be a burden to her family” and wanted to be killed. The case recalled a similar one in 2012 in which a wife killed her 75-year-old husband who had suffered a stroke a decade before. She immediately called the police after stabbing him to death and expressed a desire to be killed herself.
Japan has little hope of replenishing its population, either, as studies show the number of young Japanese women interested in having children is dwindling. One survey found that up to 20 percent of Japanese working mothers experience office harassment. Those who are pregnant face discrimination, as well, and strict vacation norms pressure women not to embark upon the time-consuming experience of having and raising children. With the nation’s current fertility rate, by 2065, Japan will not have the necessary workforce to maintain its economy.
“We need an immigration revolution to bring in 10 million people in the next 50 years, otherwise the Japanese economy will collapse,” Tokyo Immigration Bureau chief Hidenori Sakanaka said in February 2015. “Japan is an island country and we didn’t let foreigners enter for over 1,000 years, so we haven’t had great experiences living with other ethnic groups,” he admitted, but the options are limited. Japanese stringent immigration laws make it very difficult for foreigners to become citizens, with multi-generation Japanese being denied citizenship because their families emigrated from abroad.