With Japan's ageing population, more people are dying alone and unnoticed in a country of 127 million where one in four people is over 65.

For these so-called "lonely deaths", families and landlords in Tokyo are increasingly turning to Hirotsugu Masuda and his clean-up crew to salvage apartments where the occupant's body lay undiscovered for days or weeks.

Reuters photographer Toru Hanai accompanied the lonely death clean-up crew to an apartment in Tokyo where the body of an elderly man was found. He had been dead for a month.

Japan lonely death clean-up crews
Hirotsugu Masuda prays before entering a flat in Tokyo where the body of an 85 year-old man had been left for more than a monthToru Hanai/Reuters
Japan lonely death clean-up crews
Hirotsugu Masuda enters thr dead man's flat in TokyoToru Hanai/Reuters

Neighbours hadn't noticed the octogenarian's absence. His bank made the rent payments on time, his family did not visit, and the only reason for the body's discovery was the smell that troubled the tenant in the flat below.

When Masuda's team turns up at the apartment, police have taken away the corpse but bodily fluids have seeped into the floor. Flies buzz around a cooker filled with rice. Old calendars and papers are strewn around the flat.

Workers wearing protective gear spray the apartment with insect repellent, using gloved hands to pack the rubbish up.

Japan lonely death clean-up crews
Hundreds of flies buzz around the garbage-filled flat where the body was foundToru Hanai/Reuters
Japan lonely death clean-up crews
A member of the clean-up crew releases insecticidal smoke to kill flies in the flatToru Hanai/Reuters
Japan lonely death clean-up crews
Leftover rice and milk cartons are seen in the kitchenToru Hanai/Reuters
Japan lonely death clean-up crews
A bathtub and toilet are seen in the man's flatToru Hanai/Reuters
Japan lonely death clean-up crews
Members of the clean-up crew start clearing out the flatToru Hanai/Reuters
Japan lonely death clean-up crews
A member of the clean-up crew bags the dead man's clothingToru Hanai/Reuters
Japan lonely death clean-up crews
A watch and letters are left discarded at the flat in TokyoToru Hanai/Reuters
Japan lonely death clean-up crews
Hirotsugu Masuda checks the man's belongings for documents and pictures that family members may valueToru Hanai/Reuters

The six-hour exercise is conducted discreetly to avoid upsetting the neighbours. The crew tells onlookers they are moving house.

When they are done, incense and flowers are placed where the body was, with the man's photo put where his head had been.

Japan lonely death clean-up crews
A worker sweeps tatami flooring matsToru Hanai/Reuters
Japan lonely death clean-up crews
A worker loads a van with rubbish from the dead man's flatToru Hanai/Reuters
Japan lonely death clean-up crews
Hirotsugu Masuda prays in front of a stain on the floor where the body of an 85 year-old man was left for more than a monthToru Hanai/Reuters

"This has started becoming a bit more common in the world and it's become more recognised that there's this sort of job," said Masuda.

Masuda's firm works almost exclusively with "lonely deaths", charging between 81,000 yen (£455 or $676) and 341,000 yen (£1,916 or $2,845) depending on apartment size.

In a country where around five million elderly people live alone, the number of decaying bodies found in empty homes is expected to soar. Data shows they are more likely to be male.

"There's likely 40,000 of these cases and we think that in 10 years, it's likely to go over 100,000 cases," said Hideto Kone, an NGO official.

Those forgotten by their families are not given a funeral and their remains are interred in unmarked graves.

Japan lonely death clean-up crews
The graves of people who have no one to tend them are seen at a temple in TokyoToru Hanai/Reuters