OSAKA -- When the bodies of a mother and daughter were found in their apartment in Osaka's Minato Ward on Dec. 11, the latter had just 13 yen (about 13 cents) left in her wallet. Both had starved to death. The women, aged 68 and 42, had nothing in their fridge. Their gas and water had been cut off. And nobody noticed their fate for months on end.
Osaka Prefectural Police's Minato Station reported receiving a call from the 68-year-old woman's sister on the afternoon of Dec. 11, saying, "I can't get hold of my little sister."
Arriving at the apartment, located in the same Tempozan bay area as the enormous Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, officers found one decomposing body in a Western-style room and one in the living room. Both had been dead for several months. Both, autopsies revealed, had been suffering from malnutrition and their stomachs were completely empty. The deceased victim thought to be the mother weighed only around 30 kilograms.
"There weren't even any condiments like miso paste left in the apartment," one investigative source told the Mainichi Shimbun. Perhaps she was cold, but the daughter had collapsed and died while wearing her coat.
According to people in the neighborhood, the mother had moved into the apartment building with her family when it was completed in 1976. She left for a time when she got married, but later returned with her daughter. She had been living there with her daughter for about 10 years, after her older family members had passed away.
The mother and her daughter had often been seen shopping together and appeared to get along well. They did not have many acquaintances in the area, but the mother became the local community association head. The woman who asked her to take on the role recalled, "There are a lot of people who try and avoid it, but she said, 'Sure I'll do it' and took on the job cheerfully.
"She was very well mannered, and never had a bad word to say about anyone," the woman said, adding that she also seemed to take her health seriously, walking all the way to a supermarket that was just one train stop away.
But people who knew the pair reported that they looked like they were in trouble starting in spring this year, and there were signs that they were increasingly becoming hard-pressed. The daughter had a problem at work and quit. The pair mentioned being in money trouble, and that they'd been living off funds sent from relatives.
In the summer, the daughter's name, birth date, mobile phone number, employer and other personal information were posted on an internet complaint site. The post also hinted at money problems, and is thought to have been the work of a troll.
Eventually, the pair fell behind on their newspaper subscription fee, prompting local newspaper delivery staff to visit their apartment repeatedly, but they never answered the door. They stopped paying their water bill, and the municipal water utility shut off their water in mid-November.
It appears that the mother and daughter never received public assistance, so they never came to the attention of the district welfare officer. They disappeared almost entirely from the neighborhood from summer onward.
There have been multiple cases of people being found dead together at home in recent years. According to a Mainichi Shimbun study, a total of 538 people were found in such circumstances from 2017 to 2019 in Tokyo's 23 wards and the city of Osaka alone. Among them were the bodies of many parents and children or couples apparently dying around the same time. Their deaths have highlighted the worsening problem of people becoming isolated from their communities and falling through the holes in the social safety net.
One 73-year-old woman who knew the deceased pair said, "Both of them were always well dressed and didn't look like they were in trouble. How could it have come to this?"
A man in his 70s living in the same building commented, "People's bonds with their community have been thinning recently. It's really very sad that such a thing happened around here."
(Japanese original by Manami Sakakihara, Shintaro Sawa, Kumiko Yasumoto, and Akihiko Tsuchida, Osaka City News Department)