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By 2035, half of Japanese will be single, predicts commentator

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By 2035, half of Japanese aged 15 and up will be single. Japan will be a “super-solo society,” says advertising copywriter and commentator Kazuhisa Arakawa, writing in Shukan Asahi (Jan 19). Family ties, community ties, workplace ties, will fray, perhaps snap altogether. For better and/ or worse, the individual will be on his or her own.

It’s a sea change. From the dawn of the 20th century to its end, people married as a matter of course. They had children as a matter of course. Not everyone, of course, but lifetime singles never numbered more than 5 percent of the population. Now they number 20%. By 2035 one man in three, and one woman in five, will never marry.

Even now, one-quarter of Japanese households are single-occupant. They outnumber households comprised of parents and children.

You needn’t be single to be “solo,” Arakawa observes. Divorce, separation and widowhood – all three on the rise – lead in the same direction.

Other trends weaken other ties. Lifetime employment, for example, is a fading custom. Ambitious and restless, “nomad employees” switch jobs readily, or start their own companies, which thanks to crowdfunding and other novelties is easier than ever to do. The relationships you form with colleagues, clients and suppliers you expect to be dealing with for life are different from those that take shape among individuals who are where they are merely on the way to somewhere else.

All this sounds uniquely modern, uniquely 21st century. It’s not, Arakawa finds. The prototype he discovers is surprisingly old – centuries old. The city of Edo (present-day Tokyo), in its formative phase 250-odd years ago, was also a “super-solo society.”

Edo was a man’s town, populated first by samurai warriors, then by merchants pouring into the new city from all over the country, catering to samurai needs and wants. They throve, and drew in others. In 1721, Arakawa says, Edo’s merchant class population was roughly 500,000 – 320,000 men, 180,000 women. Such a disproportion produces a lot of lifetime singles. An 18th-century Edo denizen whisked to 21st-century Japan might be less disoriented than other obvious differences would lead us to expect.

Single men, then as now, as a rule didn’t cook. Restaurants sprang up, as did food stalls and food delivery services. Fast food got its spur then. Especially popular was the item we know today as omusubi, a vinegared rice ball wrapped in dried seaweed.

A family anchors you. Family-less and unanchored, single Edo men bought little and rented much. Everything was for rent – clothing, bedding, furniture, dishes, mosquito nets.

But the Edo individual was not the atom lost in the mass he (and increasingly she) tends to be today, Arakawa says. The fearful and growing modern phenomenon of dying alone without anyone noticing would have been rare in Edo. Neighbors would surely have noticed – or failing them, the strangers who called regularly, prominent among them the itinerant recycle man. Everything in Edo was recycled – night soil, used ashes, old nails, even hair fallen out.

Often enough life makes solos of even married people. That’s hardest when it happens at an advanced age. Older men, Arakawa finds, are particularly vulnerable. Women, once their children have grown, are better at making friends. Men rooted in 20th-century corporate culture know only their families and their colleagues, usually the latter more intimately than the former. Post-retirement, workplace attachments tend to wither, leaving a void difficult to fill.

A super-solo society need not be bleak, Arakawa concludes. We’ll learn over time to live alone, we’ll form new contacts via the internet – there’s no telling what new forms of social (and post-social) life will evolve in the next few years and decades. It will be interesting to watch it happening.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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Many studies seem to show that married people are happier. Whether this is because happy people are more likely to get married, I can't say, but it is what the studies say. If a couple pool their resources, they will also be better off than singles. It costs less per person to live as a couple, though does not require you to be married.

It doesn't have to be marriage, but I think bonds with other people make us happier than endless consumerism. Consumerism loves to target single people.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

To marry or to remain single is a personal choice which must be respected.

As for marriage, many counselors have stated that commitment is a key aspect for its success. Some individuals unfortunately are uncomfortable with that.

There also has to be some sacrifice in the mix. If one really loves their partner, this element will be apparent.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Why do 15 years old matter into this? They're not allowed to date by their teachers.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Often enough life makes solos of even married people

Yes, this is so true, I'm surprised how many Japanese "couples" have this kind of relationship. Wives hate their husbands and husbands avoid talking to their wives, treating them like a necessary evil. Even living alone is a better alternative to such "family". In the long-term perspective I think that share houses will become more and more popular among people of all ages. At least in a share house you will never feel lonely and can talk to people when you return home after work. If you don't like your place, you can move to another one.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The cases of the elderly who are living alone, not because they must (are widowed or similarly bereft), but because they have in some sense chosen to do so, seem to me different from those of the young and marriageable who opt out of marrying or living together. I wonder whether the nursing care system devised under then PM Koizumi, for which I am very grateful (it has many good points), accidentally creates economic incentives for separating and divorcing if one is disabled. It was designed I suppose to relieve hospitals of taking in too many elderly who can be looked after in part-time stretches. The quite natural placing of responsibility for nursing care on the spouse (of either sex) first of all (or other near-by family members) and then on the community system if the related people cannot do the work, albeit logical, seems to promote divorcing in the case of a spouse who cannot or will not do what one thinks is necessary. While neighborhoods still seem to frown upon divorce, this economic and health-care related "motive" for divorce seems to create many new single households. This when the government is rewarding families of several generations who manage to live together! It is not a government policy to divide families, but how should the government work to avert this effect of its own system?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Itsonlyrock#  Each to their own of course. Keep an open mind and an open heart, just in case ay ;) One never knows what life has in stall for us.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Hi Ricky Kaminski, no excuses, I won't pretend otherwise, there are men that are genuinely eligible,  kind and have shown an interest.

I am a fool, I know,  but to share time and emotions, I like to chill in my own way, difficult to explain in a logical manner.

I have succumbed to the habit of my time, that I will agree is a mixture of reticence, at least outside of work.

My Mother and Father suggest is a the definition of loneliness. But I do enjoy the privacy of seclusion away from the business. My grandparent think it is a mental illness.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

It's a lot like that in America too. On the other side of the coin there are less arraigned marriages as well.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

thepersonalamnow, well put.

Itsonlyrocknroll, that's the blues speakin man! We need someone to stop us from consuming ourselves!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I value my independence, its selfish, one day probably regret it.

But I sometimes relish silence and solitude.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

A lot of this comes from denying oneself from an early age.

Japans strength’s are also its weaknesses.

Not knowing how to approach a man or lady you like, shyness being a virtue instead of a hindrance, a general acceptance (and thus promoting) otaku and isolationist behavior, ending up being an adult with almost no real friends or social life...

Dealing with people and building relationships is not step by step or done by a rule book. But so many people can’t live their lives without a little rule book. What to do? Sleep with a robot I guess...they should come with a manual.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Although seen as the easy road, could think of nothing worse than not having someone to share the journey of life together with. If you are lucky and brave enough to put yourself out there and find true love it becomes like oxygen and makes life that much more worthwhile and meaningful. Looking after someone and being looked after in return is a blessing and its sort of sad that some people give up on this without really having a go. Love is all you need! Career, independence, hobbies, yeah I get it but buying a poodle when you get older just aint gunna kick it!

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Men rooted in 20th-century corporate culture know only their families and their colleagues, usually the latter more intimately than the former. Post-retirement, workplace attachments tend to wither, leaving a void difficult to fill.

There are many men in my Tokyo office who leave their families in Kansai and return two weekends a month. My boss is early 50's and has lived in Tokyo alone for more than 8 years. I have no idea if his family is happy or indifferent when he returns, or if his wife cares to sleep with him. He seems lonely but I am particularly not interested in spending time outside of office hours with him.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Why is the article using 'single' and 'married' interchangeably. You could be unmarried but not single. Anyway, so what if people don't marry, it's being in a loving relationship that matters rather than an entry on the family register. Not being so het up about children being born outside marriage would help too.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

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