The scene of a solitary death can be a horrific situation with foul odors and scattered belongings (image courtesy of Risk Benefit).
Solitary death insurance is a booming business in Japan today. Following Part 1: Background of the Dramatic Increase for Solitary Death Insurance, we will report on the actual situation.
According to Toru Tadamura, representative of Risk Benefit, which operates a special cleaning business, even after the COVID-19 crisis, middle-aged men are still the overwhelming majority of tenants at special cleaning sites.
The largest number of requests for special cleaning services are received during the summer months of the year.
The number of solitary deaths themselves, as with most deaths, is higher during the cold months of December through February and lower during the hot months of June through September. However, the speed of decomposition is many times faster in the summer than in the winter, and as a result, requests are concentrated in the summer.
“These days, many young unmarried people in their 30s and 40s die alone,” he says. “My impression is that the younger generation is particularly disorganized in their lives.
When you enter a house, you may find convenience store lunches, cup noodle containers, and empty beer cans strewn about to the point where there is no place to step. The pattern is one of social isolation, poor health due to disordered lifestyles, and sudden death at a young age.”
Decomposition smell differs depending on the person who died
The smell of decomposition at special cleaning sites is also related to life. A person with diabetes is said to smell sweet and heavy, while a person who has taken a lot of tranquilizers is said to have a strong chemical smell. He says that as he works more and more as a special cleaner, he is able to envision the lifestyles of the residents as soon as he enters the scene.
“The other thing is that with the increase in the number of tower apartments, we get requests from them as well,” he says. “The hardest part of tower condominiums is the interior corridors and elevators. Just carrying out dirty household goods causes the hallways and elevators to smell for a while.
Since the elevators cannot be used, the residents have to go up and down the stairs to the 20th and 30th floors and remove the odor as well. Naturally, the costs will be high.”
The existence of solitary death insurance is also very convenient for special cleaners. However, depending on the insurance company, they may find it inconvenient.
The problem is the length of time it takes for the insurance to be approved.
In the case of a solitary death that requires special cleaning, the scene is in a very gruesome state when the request is received. It is not uncommon for a large number of insects to infest the area and for the smell of decay to spread to the neighborhood.
If the owner applies for insurance coverage, the site must be left as it is until the insurance company confirms the situation. The insurance company decides whether the death is really a solitary death, what condition it is in, and whether the cost of cleanup is reasonable, among other things, in light of the insurance requirements.
In many cases, however, this examination is not completed in a short time, depending on the insurance company and the situation at the site, and can take one to two weeks.
The longer the examination takes, the longer the special cleaning work is delayed. In the meantime, if the body decomposes, the cost will be added to the cost, and the residents of the same apartment or condominium will also be inconvenienced.
Some special cleaning companies do nothing. However, Risk Benefit says that in order to minimize the damage, they will spray disinfectant and apply simple odor elimination for the time being, before getting permission from the insurance company. In some cases, they negotiate with insurance companies on behalf of owners and real estate companies.
“The solitary death insurance has become quite popular, but the situation differs considerably from site to site, and the knowledge of the insurance company’s staff varies, so it does not always go smoothly. In some cases, the insurance company may take a direction that suits them.
It is specialized companies like ours that are most familiar with the scene of a solitary death. Therefore, the extent to which the contractor is involved and the extent to which they respond appropriately will determine the effectiveness of the lone death insurance policy.”
The concern is that the current special cleaning industry is saturated.
The number of special cleaning companies began to increase about 10 years ago and has now spread to every corner of the country. The number of contractors far exceeds the demand, and a fierce battle is being waged for survival.
The Future World of Solitary Deaths in Japan
This has created a price war in the industry, but the lower the price, the more the quality of service is declining. As prices go down, the quality of service is going down, and this is leading to a situation in which the best solitary death insurance policies are not being used properly.
In light of this, it can be said that owners, real estate companies, and bereaved families need to be able to choose a company that is capable of properly using the solitary death insurance policy.
What does the future hold for the world of solitary deaths in Japan?
Tadamura was asked, “How will the world of solitary deaths in Japan change in the future?”
“As the birthrate declines and the percentage of unmarried households rises, the percentage of people who die alone will tend to increase. However, I think there is still room for improvement as a society in how quickly solitary deaths can be detected.
One example is the use of IoT. If monitoring software detects that water has not been used in the house for a certain period of time or that the door is still closed, relatives and supporters will be notified. Even if a solitary death cannot be avoided, the need for special cleaning may be eliminated.”
Indeed, the use of IoT can minimize the damage even in the event of a lone death.
In this regard, it may be necessary to take measures to prevent solitary deaths and at the same time prevent the need for special cleaning services.
(Honorifics omitted in the text)