Twenty six-year old Miyu Kojima works for a company that cleans up after kodokushi (孤独死) or lonely deaths: a Japanese phenomenon of people dying alone and remaining undiscovered for a long period of time. The instances first began to be reported around 2000, and are thought to be a product of increased social isolation coupled with a greying population.
Part art therapy and part public service campaign, Kojima spends a large portion of her free time recreating detailed miniature replicas of the rooms she has cleaned. A word of caution: although recreated without the corpses, some of the replicas can be quite disturbing.
Kojima has been working for the clean-up company for about 4 years and explains that she cleans on average 300 rooms per year. To preserve and document the scene, the company always takes photographs of the rooms in case relatives want to see them. However, Kojima noticed that the photographs really don’t capture the sadness of the incident. And while she had no formal art training, she decided to go to her local craft store and buy supplies, which she used to create her replicas. She sometimes uses color-copies of the photographs, which she then sculpts into miniature objects.Kojima says that she spends about 1 month on each replica.
Kojima originally started working for the clean-up company after her father experienced a similar fate. When she was in high school her parents separated and her father was living alone. One day her mother went to visit him to discuss divorce proceedings when she discovered him collapsed after suffering a heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital and was sustained, but drifted into a coma. While unconscious, the doctors told Kojima that there was a good chance her father could hear her. And so, together with her mother, they spoke to him. The father never awoke from his coma but before passing away, tears rolled down his face. At that moment “I realized he had heard me,” explains Kojima. “I wished I would have fostered more of a bond with him.”
It was those feelings of regret that led her to create art that coveys the true sadness of kodokushi and, on another layer, the vital importance of simply communicating with those around you. Kodokushi doesn’t just affect the elderly. It can happen to anyone. But in almost all cases it happens to those who have poor relations with their family and no one to reach out to for help.