- Title: JAPAN: Record heat wave claims hundreds of elderly victims
- Date: 21st August 2010
- Summary: BOY DRINKING WATER AT WATER FOUNTAIN VARIOUS OF WOMAN FILLING BOTTLE WITH WATER
- Embargoed: 5th September 2010 13:00
- Location: Japan
- Country: Japan
- Topics: Disasters / Accidents / Natural catastrophes,Weather
- Reuters ID: LVA505INB4SY3QPI7557XFBLPLVA
- Story Text: They call themselves the "Smile Collectors" as they see themselves as collectors of more than just garbage.
As they go about their twice weekly door-to-door picking up other people's trash, these civil servants from the city of Hadano, some 60 kilometers (36 miles) southwest of the Japanese capital, also knock on doors when they do not see bags of rubbish outside the homes.
These days with Japan experiencing one of its hottest summers in recent memory, this service is considered especially valuable for many of its patrons - over half of them elderly.
Already no day seems to have gone by this month of August without Japanese news media reporting one or several single elderly dying alone at home from the heat wave.
On Friday (August 20) public broadcaster NHK reported the nationwide total of deaths from the heat to have reached 305.
In Tokyo alone 118 people have died of heat exhaustion in the period between July 17th and August 19th according to the Tokyo Medical Examiner's Office who collect data from hospitals around the capital.
From this number, 112 were people above the age of sixty, 81 died alone and 114 succumbed in their homes.
For 90-year old Toshiko Suzuki who lives with her physically handicapped daughter, this service is especially welcome.
Not only does it mean she does not have to go to the rubbish collection points which are usually some distance away from her house, but it also has become a source of comfort for her and her daughter.
"I feel better knowing that someone comes over to check how I'm doing in this heat. Other people normally don't care. Unlike in the past, we keep our distance from even our neighbors," she told Reuters in her home cooled with both a fan and an air conditioner.
This is unlike many elderly Japanese who refuse to own or use air conditioning, believing they are more likely to catch a cold than be hit by a heatstroke.
Hiroaki Fujii who has been doing these twice weekly runs over the 8 years of it's existence has seen demand for the "Smile Collectors" triple since its inception.
"I think it's important to check on them at least once a week. It could be done by telephone, or by many other ways," he said recalling the time last year he checked on an elderly during one of his runs only to find the elderly dead.
Not everyone can qualify for this free public service. One of the conditions requires them to be medically certified as needing assistance to walk regardless of age. However out of the 92 household benefitting from this service, around half are elderly - those most in danger of succumbing to the heat this summer.
But of the 33,000 people over the age of 65 in Hadano city, some said they had their own ways of dealing with the scorching summer.
"It's really hot these days, so I try not to push myself too much. I try to drink enough water, eat and sleep well. These are the things I try remember to do," 77-year old Yoshiyuki Arasawa told Reuters, repeating what news channels have been daily warning citizens to do in this heat.
Some of the older citizens said they've seen it all and weren't bothered.
"I'm going to turn 90 in this fall, but I think I can withstand this heat," said Teruji Aihara who turns 90 later this year and says he remembers it being hotter when he was stationed on a Pacific island during the World War Two.
Temperatures across most of the nation have averaged above 35 degrees centigrade (95 degrees Fahrenheit) for days and sometimes weeks in a row with the thermometer hardly dropping below 30 (86 Fahrenheit) even in the evenings. Some inland towns have registered record temperature approaching 40 degrees (104 Fahrenheit) in July and August.
According to Kyodo news agency quoting the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, a total of over 31,000 people were hospitalised since May 31st and treated for heat stroke.
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