"For a fuller picture of the brave new kinless world, consider Japan, a country now in the throes of an epidemic of kodokushi, roughly translated as “lonely deaths.” Local Japanese papers regularly publish stories about kinless elderly whose deaths go unnoticed until the telltale smell of maggot-eaten flesh alerts neighbors. Such deaths are common enough that Japanese entrepreneurs have created an industry of cleaning companies for dealing with their aftereffects. Last year, a reporter watched as workers clad in full-body protective gear from one of those companies—with the chilling name “Next”—disinfected the apartment of Hiroaki, a 54-year-old divorced man with no children. No one noticed that he had been gone for four months, and even then, it was only because Hiroaki’s rent money, which had been automatically deducted from a savings account, had dried up. A representative of the building’s management company finally discovered his decomposed remains on a soiled futon.
Lonely-death cleaning companies promise to be a good investment in Japan. The culture’s legendary filial piety has gone the way of the samurai; children and grandchildren are often too busy or far away for regular visiting. And that’s for the lucky ones who have progeny. A record number of young people are forgoing marriage, just as they are in the United States. But unlike other post-transition countries, Japan is not replacing marriage with “nonconventional” family arrangements. Divorce, nonmarital births, single parents, and cohabitation remain rare. (Oddly, even sex appears to be losing its appeal for young Japanese men and women.) The country’s fertility rate is about the lowest in the world, and despite Prime Minister Shinzo¯ Abe’s support for parental leave, tax incentives, and various other measures designed to increase births, there’s no sign of public enthusiasm for marriage and baby-making. “The general concept of family in Japan has fallen apart,” as Masaki Ichinose, of the Centre for Life and Death Studies at the University of Tokyo, told the Washington Post."
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