Japanese Solitude

When you think of solitude, do you feel lonely and neglected? Or does it make you feel calm and reflective? Solitude has a generally positive and enjoyable image in Japanese culture as of late. The popular television show, Kodoku no Gurume (solitary gourmet) follows the story of a single, middle-aged business man and his inner monologue as he enjoys a nice meal on his own. It sounds like a fairly simple concept, but it has aired over 72 episodes since 2012, proving to be a popular show. So, why is the idea of solitude getting so much positive media attention?

There are currently 18.4 million adults who live alone, and 1/5 of Japanese people don’t get married. Just last year, 45,000 deaths went unnoticed because they were alone. More and more people are conducting their own funeral preparations and getting their possessions ready for “when the time comes.”

This may be because of the changing tides of the collectivist society that Japan has boasted for decades. There is a rise in the idea of a society without ties, a growing number of individuals who don’t have any connections with one another. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing comes down to personal taste.

Solitude is great for personal reflection. We become more comfortable with ourselves and make choices without outside influences. Also by temporarily removing yourself from your social circle, you are less likely to be impacted by a “we vs. them” mentality. It helps us to increase empathy and compassion towards people who would not traditionally fit into your social circle. There is an increasing number of cafes and restaurants that make dining alone less stigmatized, such as the Moomin House Cafe that allows you to sit with a big Moomin plush toy.

Via CNN

The negative aspect lies in the individual’s inability to form ties with one another or to trust others. Socializing is an important activity on its own, not just for the individual but also for society as a whole. The bonds we create with one another can bring us great joy and develop sympathy. It also allows us to understand ourselves through interactions with others. On the other hand, it can help with improving politics and societal conditions. Simply through social relationships, we develop and solidify our own political beliefs by comparing it to others’. By interacting with politicians, NGOs and other such groups, we all have the power to cause a shift in the tides. 

Via Japan Times

Despite the growing number of solitary deaths, the government is not doing enough to reduce the number of solitary people. Some critics point out the promotion of pro-loneliness literature glorifies a national issue and markets it as self-empowering independence. The government has put in minimal effort to ameliorate the ever-growing problem. A quarter of the population is over 65 years of age, and retirement benefits are not all that great. Working culture is also fairly toxic due to the expectations of overtime, not giving workers much flexibility to spend time with people outside of their workplace. Business men who retire won’t have an active social circle to spend time with in their newfound free time.

In moderation, solitude can be beneficial to us all. It goes wrong when there’s too much of it. There is a lot at stake individually, socially, and politically, if the solitude problem is not recognized.