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Japanese Seniors’ Preparations for Death
[2018.11.22]

A survey shows that the main reason people make preparations to arrange their affairs before death is “not wanting to inconvenience family members.” However, there is little increase in awareness of the need to arrange one’s “digital belongings” such as deleting unnecessary data or informing family members where necessary digital information is located.

One reflection of Japan’s graying society is a broad awareness of the need to arrange one’s affairs prior to death. In Japanese, the term shūkatsu is used to describe such preparations. In 2010, shūkatsu was nominated for the Words of the Year competition that highlights the buzzwords of the period. Many of the words are soon forgotten thereafter, but shūkatsu has become an integral term in the language.

In an October 2018 survey, 76.2% of the respondents were aware of the term shūkatsu; 21.6% had heard of it but did not know the exact meaning; and only 2.2% had never heard of it. Moreover, a combined 65.9% said that they were either “very interested” or “somewhat interested” in making such preparations prior to death.

The survey found that 10.7% of the respondents were carrying out end-of-life preparations. Among those persons and those who expressed an interest in making such preparations, an overwhelming 89.2% cited as one of their reasons that they did not want to inconvenience family members.

When asked to describe specifically what end-of-life preparations they were making, the most common among multiple possible answers, at 66.8%, was to deal with one’s belongings. Many features in magazines have focused on the difficulty for others to dispose of belongings after a relative’s death, and more and more people are trying to get rid of unnecessary things while they still have the physical strength to do so. Another common practice is writing “ending notes” with last wishes, messages, and instructions. But only 22.9% of those carrying out preparations said that they had considered dealing with their digital data prior to death.

Many elderly people use mobile phones and computers, and a considerable number of them communicate with friends via social media or carry out online banking. But if a person dies without anyone else knowing his or her password, there is no way to close a social media account. Particularly worrisome are incidents involving financial transaction fees that accumulate without anyone knowing, resulting in problems for family members.

There is little awareness of the need to make such “end-of-life digital preparations,” with 70.3% of the survey respondents saying they had never heard the term before. Around 26.5% had at least heard of that expression, but only 3.2% were familiar with what it involved. After hearing an explanation of what it means, 41% of the survey respondents said that there was data they did not want others to see after their death, while 53% said that they were worried about what would become of their digital data were something to happen to them.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo © Pixta.)

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