Take Your Secrets to the Grave With This New Innovation From Japan

  • In this digital age where we depend a lot on our electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets, have you ever wondered what would happen to the information and data stored within them in the event of your death? Although death is something that will come to all of us at one point in time, most people would plan for the aftermath when it comes to things like funeral arrangements, finances, and inheritance issues. However, with the likelihood of us not being able to plan ahead in the event of sudden sickness or accidental death, especially in the case of younger people where such matters are usually furthest in their minds, how to handle our electronic devices and the wealth of information stored within is often an afterthought or something which doesn’t cross our minds at all.

    Nowadays in Japan, there is a new trend called “digital shuukatsu (デジタル終活)” i.e. planning for your digital devices in the event of death, so read on to learn more about it!

    What exactly is digital shuukatsu?

    Before we delve into the concept of digital shuukatsu, we have to understand what a “digital ihin (デジタル遺品),” i.e. a digital relic left behind by the user who had passed away, is. Regardless of your age and gender, there is no running away from personal electronic devices and the Internet. For example, many people would have their family photos in digital format rather than printed physical copies due to the prevalence of digital cameras. Important data may be stored on smartphones and computers; your habits, preferences, or even whereabouts can also be retrieved from social media, shopping websites, and membership-based online portals. As a result, everyone is bound to leave behind an item or two when it comes to digital relics.

    According to Hagiwara Eiko (萩原 栄幸) who wrote the book Digital ihin ga abunai: Sono pasokon nokoshite yukemasuka? (Japanese only), which roughly translates to “Digital relics are dangerous: Can you die while leaving behind that computer?” such digital relics tend to be the source of trouble for the deceased’s family members and acquaintances due to the information contained within. For example, there is a story in his book which mentions how a wife in her 60s wanted to access the computer her husband left behind after he passed away. Among the files in the computer’s hard drive, there was a folder marked as “secret.” Out of curiosity, the wife accessed the folder and was aghast to see her husband’s photos with his lover during a trip and notes about their affair. Due to the shock, the wife had to stay in bed for 2 weeks.

    Of course, not everyone has a secret like this which they want to hide from their families, but we might have a thing or two which we are not prepared to share with them and would like to bring to our graves if possible. As such, this led to the emergence of this new trend in Japan i.e. digital shuukatsu wherein people take proactive steps to plan for the handling of their electronic devices and the information contained within after their deaths.

    How do you get started with digital shuukatsu?

    In Japan, there is an organization called Japan Digital Ending Activity Institute (Japanese only) i.e. JDEAI (日本デジタル終活協会) which was set up on January 1, 2016 with the following goals:

    • Organize and plan seminars aimed at boosting the public’s awareness of digital shuukatsu
    • Keep and hold in custody the ending notes used for the purpose of digital shuukatsu
    • Enter into contracts with people who wish to engage the organization in helping to arrange their after-death affairs
    • Develop and sell the ending notes used for digital shuukatsu

    According to lawyer Iseda Atsushi (Japanese only) who specializes in inheritance cases and who is also the director of JDEAI, he suggests starting with a tanaoroshi (棚卸し) i.e. stocktaking of the data you have in your electronic devices such as computers and smartphones. During the seminars organized by JDEAI, participants are asked to bring along their electronic devices where they categorize the information they have into two types i.e. the data they want to hide from others, and the data they want to keep and write onto the ending notes provided.

    Depending on the individual, the criteria to decide whether to keep or hide the data differs, so something which may seem really trivial to others may be of great importance to another. Iseda cited an example of a woman who would rather die than let her husband see an Excel spreadsheet containing her weight figures. However, due to the amount of data that we may have, it can be rather time-consuming to do this at one go, so it is recommended that you start with the more important files. Last but not least, you should update your ending note every year to reflect your current situation.

    Hagiwara also recommends installing applications such as Boku ga Shindara (僕が死んだら – Japanese only) i.e. “If I Die” that delete files which you would not want your family and loved ones to see after your death. How this software works is that you have to start with selecting the files which you wish to delete. Next, you will create a note which contains your last letter to your family and loved ones that will be saved under the name, “Boku ga shindara,” for men, or “Watashi ga shindara,” for women. Once this is done, the file will be placed on your desktop. When your family opens this file, it will trigger the software to delete the designated files from your computer without them noticing it.

    There are four ways to delete or overwrite the data so you can choose whichever method you prefer:

    1. Does not completely destroy the files so they can be retrieved relatively easily with restoration tools since the files are still remaining in the hard disk. This is the fastest method but the files can be restored with some expert help.
    2. Change the file and directory names to a random entry and overwrite the beginning of the data with a 512-byte file. Data files may be restored but images and videos cannot be played again.
    3. Change the file and directory names and overwrite the entire file so it is difficult to restore them.
    4. Change the file and directory names and use an NSA-approved method to overwrite the files. Restoration is extremely difficult but the deletion process takes the longest time among the four methods.

    Having read all about digital shuukatsu, are you ready to start thinking of what you may need to do in order to prepare for the inevitable? Do you think this new concept from Japan will become widely accepted in your country?

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