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Starving in Rich Japan

Monday, October 15, 2007 Posted: 12:32 PM JST

"This human being hasn't eaten in 10 days but is still alive. I want to eat rice. I want to eat a rice ball." So writes a 52-year-old Japanese welfare recipient in his diary after his benefits were cut off. His partly mummified corpse and his heartbreaking diary were found a month after he died a lonesome and hungry death. In Death Reveals Harsh Side of a 'Model' in Japan, Japanese journalist Norimitsu Onishi describes the cons and pros of a welfare system that doesn't reward the lazy, but also let's the weak willfully slip through its mazes.

"One man has died in each of the last three years in this city in western Japan, apparently of starvation, after his welfare application was refused or his benefits cut off. Unable to buy food, all three men wasted away for months inside their homes, where their bodies were eventually found.

Only the most recent death drew nationwide attention, however, because of the diary, which has embarrassed city officials who initially defended their handling of the case and even described it as 'model.'

In a way that the words of no living person could, the diary has shown the human costs of the economic transformation in Japan. As a widening income gap has pushed up welfare rolls in recent years, struggling cities like Kitakyushu have been under intense pressure to tighten eligibility.

The fallout from the most recent death has shown just how far the authorities in Kitakyushu went to achieve a flat welfare rate."

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Keywords: national_news

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
Stone Bridge Press

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