Deaths show low-income earners most vulnerable to savage heat of Japanese summer

One 48-year-old man, who was once homeless but had begun working, died of what is thought to be heat stroke on July 26 at his un-air conditioned Tokyo apartment. On Aug. 15 a 76-year-old man in Saitama, north-west of Tokyo, died of heatstroke because he couldn’t afford the electricity to run his air conditioner.

“People receiving some form of social welfare, even though it’s not enough, do have case workers or others to follow up on them. But low-income earners trying to survive on their own don’t have that, and fall through the cracks of heat wave countermeasures,” says one expert.

On July 23, the third day of a savage Tokyo heat wave, a man stumbled back to the office of his cleaning company after finishing a job close to Ikebukuro Station. He was scheduled to work again the next day, but Reijiro Miyamoto, director of the company that had a cleaning contract with Toshima Ward, told him not to come in. Miyamoto thought the man ought to have the weekend off. However, the man did not return to work on Monday.

Behind this and other heat stroke deaths among low-income earners is the fact that there are many households living below the “minimum cost of living” set as the standard for welfare payments. Based on the 2007 National Livelihood Survey, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimated that there are some 1.08 million households receiving social assistance payments. However, the number of households living on incomes lower than those welfare payments had risen to a startling 5.97 million.