The body of a man who had been a popular English-language volunteer guide in Tokyo’s Ginza district for decades was found in his apartment in March, apparently after dying at least six months ago, a revelation that has stunned his acquaintances.
Yahyoe Kurata’s partly skeletonised body was found on a futon on the night of March 23, when officials of the administrative office of the Tokyo metropolitan government-run complex and police entered the apartment in Setagaya Ward.
Kurata, who would have been 93, had apparently been dead for at least six months and possibly as long as three years.
Kurata’s 62-year-old son was found hanging in another room. Police believe the son killed himself a few days before his body was found.
Police suspect the son, who had told neighbours that his father “was at a nursing home for elderly people,” had lived in the apartment for some time after Kurata’s death.
The building was scheduled to be demolished soon. However, the building’s administrative office was unable to contact the occupants even after the deadline for their eviction passed.
Kurata first worked as a volunteer interpreter for foreign tourists in 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics. Kurata was in his 40s and had reportedly worked for a trading company and studied English by himself. He volunteered to guide people visiting Japan for the Games.
After retiring from his regular job in 1979, he started working as a “full-time” volunteer guide. From Tuesday to Sunday, he would stand in front of the Ginza 4-chome police box and chat with passing foreign visitors with a smile. He soon became a familiar feature of the Ginza district.
His long years of helpful service were rewarded with the Medal with Green Ribbon in 2003. He also received a letter of appreciation from the Metropolitan Police Department in 2005, when he finished his volunteering at the age of 86.
“His smile left an impression on many people,” said Ryonmi Ko, who worked at an eatery in front of the police box.
But Kurata’s ties with society dwindled after his guiding days ended, though he was sometimes seen shopping at a supermarket near his apartment.
“When he was a volunteer guide in Ginza, he often asked me to come over to his place,” an 80-year-old woman living in the same apartment complex said. “But after he ended that job, he began to look rather emaciated.”
According to neighbours, Kurata used to live with his wife and three children. In recent years, he lived with his eldest son. The son reportedly tended to stay at home and had no job.
The Tokyo metropolitan government manual for its public apartments authorises officials to enter apartments to confirm elderly residents who live alone are safe. However, Kurata fell through the cracks of this system because he lived with his son.
“I can’t believe a person who was once so active in Japan’s most glamorous shopping district died without anyone noticing,” Ko said wistfully.