Here
and
Now

kuchikomi

No. of people dying alone rises in 'no-relationship' society

50 Comments

This country’s solitude is reaching alarming proportions.

Consider the number of people dying alone: in 1987 in Tokyo, 788 men and 335 women; in 2006, 2,362 men and 1,033 women. Every day, of late, 10 people on average die alone in Tokyo.

It has been a prominent issue since January 2010, when NHK aired a documentary titled “Muen Shakai” – literally, a “no-relationship society.” Traditional community relationships withered with modernization in the late 19th century and died in the mid-20th. Family relationships are faring little better. An economy denying many people a foothold, combined with communications technology that joins us virtually but isolates us concretely, have left the individual largely on his or her own – for better and for worse.

Dying alone is something one naturally associates with the elderly, but Shukan Jitsuwa (Feb 24) finds it increasingly common among young people too.

A certain “A-san,” a 37-year-old Tokyo IT professional, offers a cautionary case study, though he survived. His social instincts never developed, his work keeps him glued to his computer screen, and although he lives in one of the most crowded cities on Earth, people are simply not part of his life. Convenience store bentos see him through three meals a day; the containers pile up in his apartment because he fell out of the habit of taking out the garbage and there was no one around to prod him. It’s not the healthiest lifestyle, and last year when the flu was going around, he succumbed. His fever rose. Helpless, he eventually lost consciousness. He might have died if his octogenarian parents, worried over his failure to answer his cell phone, had not paid him an unaccustomed visit, and called an ambulance.

There’s a company called Keepers whose business it is to dispose of possessions left behind by those who die in solitude. Its director, Taichi Yoshida, tells Shukan Jitsuwa, “Lately we’re seeing more young people dying alone. Nearly 20% of our business involves people in their 40s and 50s.”

One thing he’s noticed: “Many young people who died alone owned several computers but not a single TV.”

And something else: “Nowadays there’s a style of dining that exists somewhere between dining out and dining in. When you go out to eat, you interact with people in the restaurant. When you cook for yourself, you make some sort of personal connection in the store where you buy your ingredients, with the staff or with other customers. But when you eat prepared foods exclusively, something you just pop into the microwave, you connect with nobody.”

Modern hyper-convenience, by making isolation easy, indirectly encourages it, he finds.

Yoshida’s unusual calling has made him philosophical. “In today’s Japan,” he observes, “neither the family nor society has any control over the individual. Things are set up in such a way that the individual can live exactly as he or she likes.”

That sounds good, but the isolating impact of absolute freedom has yet to be sufficiently explored.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

50 Comments
Login to comment

Great article for Valentine's Day.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

what's happening to Japan ?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

To oberst

what's happening to Japan? This is a great subject of sociology study. I myself have been wondering about it too. No sex drive in Japan? Too stressful life in Japan? Too peaceful life in Japan? No hope in Japan?

Very interesting trends, indeed.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

how very, very sad.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

no proper morality directions. No faith in God. Need a new truth to guide these peace loving people. Focus more on developing more family programs. From material world to real world. More on famiy.More Children. Good moral education. No free sex. All problem in Japan will be solved.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

God is the answer to nothing except control. Modern disease where being selfish, bragging and egotistical is applauded.Some who do not fit in with this find the "me me me " culture something they cannot connect to. Rudeness and bullying whether in real life or virtual have become the norm. Spite is not looked down on. Many enjoy others suffering and care nothing of their feelings. some who cannot conform to raidly changing social norms become withdrawn and may become isolated from family and friends. The internet provides another reality where emotions are less easily bruised and solitude is their preference.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

It does seem like the centuries-old social rules that controlled Japan are breaking down without anything to replace them. Thus Japanese people are going to have to change.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When I compare the social fabric of Seattle and that of Tokyo, it is a depressing fact that Tokyo has little or no social fabric.

I visited Seattle for a week last November. I met six wonderful new people that I feel have become friends I will meet again when I visit or if they come to Asia. I spent time with my very active friends there who frequently meet up, go out and spend time together.

When someone is sick or having a hard time, the community rallies around them. And though they all work hard and often have school or some activities to attend to as well, they prioritize their social lives and spend time with other people as well as their active online connections which act to facilitate real world connections.

Tokyo is a sad place full of tired, isolated souls. I often meet couples who only see each other once every month or two. Friends who meet twice a year. And so many people who work, go home and repeat the process the next day.

Japan should work harder to encourage work life balance so people have time to have lives outside work. They should change daylight hours to have longer sunny evenings in summer to encourage people to go out. And they should work hard to prevent young people from failing to develop social skills.

Otherwise Japan will become the single most depressing place on earth where grass eating boys fail to connect with meat eating girls, where everyone exists only at work and in cyberspace and the body count of rotting dead people no one has realized are missing grows.

Your choice, change or this.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

TOO MUCH WORK!! many japanese people are over worked with no benefits to be seen. and they do it with a smile becuz they are too caught up in a tradition that doesnt fit in today's society.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I spent the last couple years working my butt off seven days a week. I would wake up and work until I went to sleep at night. This was at a Japanese company so this meant no meaningful relationships with my co-workers and lots of time spent (wasted?) on form over substance, i.e., making sure all the 'i's and 't's were dotted and crossed.

At the end of it I could totally see how and why so many people commit suicide in this environment. I was lucky as things changed for the better for me.

Surprise, surprise, if you put all your time and energy into work instead of friends or family you will have nothing when you are unemployed at age 65.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

“Many young people who died alone owned several computers but not a single TV.”

Fellow JT fans, are you balancing your obvious computer usage with regular dosages of good ol' teevee viewing? Gotta stay healthy.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Since I have lived in Japan I have always frequented the 300 yen public gyms. Without exception you can easily make friends there.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

tkoind. Please dont consider Tokyo as Japan in its entirety. Osaka is way different. I meet loads of new people here all the time. Tokyoites are COLD as hell.

I also agree with Stereoman, Japan is too busy working. work work work work work is all they can think off. Some of my friends work until 4 am everyday. Its insane.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I don't think this last conclusion is right at all. Social control in Japan is still enormously strong; it's why people despair at their lack of control over their circumstances and future. And I don't think 'control over the individual' has much to do with making friendships. Indeed, if people were truly free, they'd make bonds naturally. But they aren't. They're in a strange, warped reality where isolation or ostracism is the same as dying socially.

I DO agree that premade meals don't encourage things like independence, self-confidence, discipline (fiscal and otherwise), planning, etc.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hmmm... I have two computers and a smartphone, but no TV. Does that mean I'm going to die alone, and in a room full of empty plastic trash? I don't think so!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Sad and very true. I would like to make more friends around here but I've got no clue where or how to. My co-workers would never accept an invitation not even to Starbucks. My college friends... "sorry, I'm too busy studying for exams. How about you ask me again by April?" or "sorry, I'm too busy looking for a job".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Thank you for posting great blogs with a wonderful insight. I am re-learning about Japan all over again.

I am living in US and have been retired. It is very shame that I have not been there for many years. I did not realize how you guys have been working to death by giving up your personal life. No wonder everyone who is coming here to visit me appreciate everything what I do for them. They get a LIFE here. Japan needs to change for better.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

this is crazy. what a sad story

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Something I find that is different here is that people rarely re-marry. I know a few widows who are still very genki, work part or full-time and live alone. They would undoubtably be good wives for any man over 50. They tell me that they are so lonely but when I have ask them if they would ever get remarried they give me a look like I have just asked them to start wearing their shoes in the house! These are not newly grieving widows either. I guess in Japan once you are married that is that. If gawd-forbid my lovely Japanese wife were to succumb early - I think I would be able to remarry (after my tour of Sweden of course)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I don't think it's really a new thing, there was a song called "Tokyo Sabaku" = "Desert Tokyo". My girlfriend, who is from south, is also shocked how cold is the society in Tokyo. it probably has to do with overwork and over-convenience of everything. I remember myself getting philosophical when I lost my bank card, and they put me in front of a machine that did all the paperwork. Including me signing and submitting the necessary documents

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am very outgoing and friendly, active in the arts and know a lot of people. But I wouldn't call 99% of the connections here as meaningful friendships. More like relationships for some purpose.

Friendship seems to utilitarian here.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

dentshop - Maybe they don't want to?

You have to remember that these widows, lonely as they may be, have large amounts of freedom compared to married women of the same age. They are possibly enjoying their job and being in control of their finances, without having to come home after a long day of work and look after their husband (who probably just would grunt orders at them such as "food" "bath" "beer" "bed.") Many men looking to marry at that age are after a wife who will look after them and I guess having tried it, these women just don't want to do It again.

Marrying a Japanese man isn't all fun and games as far as I can tell. Many married women would consider these widows to be the lucky ones.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I tell you, I just saw a Japanese TV program about a female book writer making a book on making a life on your own and encouraging this lifestyle. It seems everyone is looking at the man, but maybe we should revisit how J-girls are thinking these days about relationships. I often find girls here looking for fun and very short term thinking and is often glazed by hollywood movies, etc., too much Sex in the City thinking. They seem to want the cake and eat it too, quick fun with a foreigner and then complain about not finding someone. Older women seem to be choosing or wanting younger men, but the problem with that is it is just a temporary solution and then by the time they wake up.. it is too late as their biological clock has all but ticked away.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

JA Cruise is right. I know a lot of 30-40 something women who are single, lonely and complain about it all the time. But when you ask what their expectations are, you get this Cinderella story. I have to admit I want to, but can't say, "get realistic, prince charming is married already or dating some young trophy girl." They need to have realistic non-hollywood expectations.

But the guys are just as bad with all this weak grass eating nonsense and insane levels of pickiness or Otaku-ness.

But event if you can't manage a relationship, friendship here is just as transient and shallow. Tokyo culture is a mess. Nice surface but rotten and empty beneath.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

they do it with a smile becuz they are too caught up in a tradition that doesnt fit in today's society.

Come off it. How many times do you see people smile in Tokyo? I've lived here for years, months go by without seeing someone smile.

Trains are like libraries, the streets are quiet. People in this country just don't communicate or interact effectively with other human beings.

They're all "in the zone" - oblivious to what's going on around them, unable to respond or deal with humans on a one-on-one or spontaneous setting.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Again (to echo Papiguilio)... your talking about TOKYO here!! There is more to Japan than Tokyo!!!

In Kansai the people are smiley and genki (except the slightly grumpier Kyoto) and I agree it is MUCH easier to make friends. Also anywhere out with a major city the people are generally friendly too.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow.....I am so speechless about Japan and Japanese society today. As a matter of fact, I am in shock.

When did Japanese become Robots? Now I can see why some Japanese who came here got lost when new simple challenges (problem and issue outside box)were given to them. They just do not know what to do.

Japanese have no social skills. As himehentai mentioned, their heads are hard-wired with FOODBATHBEER**BED. No talking at all. My dogs are doing at least waggling their tails to me.

What can you do to change Japan and Japanese society, so that Japanese become a Human again? I would like to find good friends, not a relationship with committment if I go back to Japan for a visit.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

A ot what people write is projection of themselves. I had a wonderful experience in Tokyo. I wonder what the stats are for other cities in the world for people dying alone. After all, is not death by definition a solitary event. Old people very often live alone having outlived their spouse. Their children check once in awhile. C'est la vie.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Their children check once in awhile. C'est la vie.

Very sad to see this posting.

I can still sing "TOKYO DAYO OK'ASAN" along with Karaoke machine in US. I guess that tender heart and spirit of children towards aged parents has been lost in Japan.

What had happend to all "Oya-Kohko" Japanese children with golden hearts? That was one of the greatest and unique spirit to keep Japanese social fabric in place.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

you want to know what happened to "Oya-Kohko" - well, for one thing their fathers were NEVER around so they have nothing to base a "family" on - their mothers were so frazzled, what with the extra work for the yakuin, etc. they stick the kids in their rooms with desks from the age of 7 and probably never checked on them......i could go on.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@globalwatcher

When did Japanese become Robots?

With all the portable gamedevices atm, people only care about their games and ipads and less about their social life. Its a problem which will only become bigger in the future im afraid.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Even TV now is promoting the idea that you and your "friend" can watch a payperview movie together online. You at your home, friend at his or her home. Now why would this be a good thing? Why not watch together in the same room and have some human interaction.

Everything in Tokyo is insular and isolating. Cell phones, Ipods/pads, game players. How often do you see a circle of teens all on their phones and not even talking to each other? At least three or four times a day and I don't spend much time around kids.

At work no one talks. On the train people are too busy fighting for that 1cm of space. No one smiles. No one talks. And the 30-50 year old guys on my train route have the expressions of reanimated zombies who are not happy to be back from the grave.

Tokyo is a a social desert. X million people living in isolation in the same physical area. Sex is in decline, friendship rare, social circles a myth and interpersonal skills illusory. Sad!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Tokyo is a a social desert. X million people living in isolation in the same physical area. Sex is in decline, friendship rare, social circles a myth and interpersonal skills illusory. Sad

This must be the consequence of a rich high tech society that was the pride of Japan. Seems like a cliche, but poor and 'backward' societies have it better with extended family members caring for each other.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Pretty hard to make let alone foster any relationships when you have to work a 60-hour week. Also difficult to keep in touch with friends/family when you live an hour or more apart. But it is worth the effort. Get away from computer now and phone someone!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Totally agree that it is nice to be able to go to a local watering hole, build a relationship with the barman/owner and other regulars and feel welcome each time you enter. Eating at home alone is fine sometimes but not every day. Get out and explore. There are great places and crap places waiting to be found, you just need to build up a small collection of good places to drink or eat at.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well put tkoind2. I fully agree with your outline...your statement though is simply the tip of the ice-berg.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's the same in all big cities - London is barely any different. Being obsessed with iPhones, computers etc., is hardly a Tokyo thing.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Social networking adds to the isolation, at least for me, which is why I've stopped Facebooking and have never tweeted a syllable. I heard that London was just as bad. I don't know what New York is like nowadays, but when I lived there, there was the odd occasion that people would talk to me or I to them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

More and more people today forego marriage, co-living, etc just a worldwide trend so not surprising that when the Grim Reaper comes to call people will be by their own lonesomeness.

Divorces, etc are also on the rise.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

on the other hand, in certain neighborhood in the States, you get " nervous " when you see a bunch of teenagers " socializing " around the street corner............

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Thanks God, this is not happening everywhere in Japan. In my area, people get together, do activities, have parties, go away together on weekend trips...hell, I am happy when I can spend one evening alone. Just stay away from those big cities.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In my case, I don't dislike people as a whole, but I get pretty uneasy in social situations including SNS's and tend to avoid it. It's alright when work requires, but when it comes down to choice, I choose to be by myself most of the time. So for me, it's probably more of a personality thing than society or technology.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In my area, people get together, do activities, have parties, go away together on weekend trips...

I live in Tokyo, and we and the people we know do this as well, and I don't think we're unusual. Did you think all 20 million Tokyoites lived in perpetual isolation?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Tokyo...millions of people at arms length....but still alone....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Jpn is just reaping what she continues to sew, a population with little or no LIFE, yeah outside the cities its better but only when comparing to city life in Jpn.

The govt has defacto decided to let old people die on their own to help fix financial issues with pensions, health care etc, ditto for kids, child care etc is dismal.

But at the same time the j-popuation has lets its govt fleece them blind & rack up obscene debt.

For Jpn to have a chance it needs to re-invent itself ENTIRELY, but i think its going to have to get much worse before anything might have a chance to happen. Jpn is looking much less like a place I want to retire in

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They used to take old people out in the mountains and leave them there.... Without their nenkin techo or shakai hoken card.... Cruel!!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

In the country where I studied people were far more sociable but since I move to Tokyo it is totally different.At least we don't have this problem in Africa.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Urban areas like London could be the same. But, anyway, in Japan, people who are working for the demanding companies are no time to enjoy their private life outside of the office world. absolutely No Time. and No place to go to find the local community to have a chat neighter- there is no place like local pubs in Britain. No social - local community clubs for working people in Japan. People even young generation do not have a chance to see other youths in Japan outside of their workplace. If they have time, guys go to massage parlour or drinking hostess clubs or pachinko parlours to kill time. how unhealthy and how mindnumming. how sad. Not doing baseball like any local football clubs in Britain. No after work. No early evening free time. No weekend. No concecutive holiday. No life. How can people find new love, friendship, joy of life, hobby, in such a state of life. No chance. They are very unlikely to any other country's people. I bet no one in this world really imagine how restricted their life is.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A 'no-relationship' society is everywhere. My life can summed up in three words "Eat-Sleep-Work". I have not dated in over 3 years...I do not drink so I do not go to the bar. As far as meeting someone over the Internet I have met several in person only to find out they are not even close to the person they portray themselves to be. I had one lady show up 8 months pregnant..I tried to play it off and just thought to myself "Hey at least I know she puts out" but we never saw each other again.

Being single may suck but it is safe. Would I like to meet someone..you bet but at my age (46 today)many are married. Out of those that are single a ton of them have let their bodies go. Also out of the ones that I am attracted to..ninety nine percent of those are not attracted to me. Leaving just one percent and most of those are from someplace I am not...then you have to factor in compatability. I think you get what I am saying.....however one does not give up hope.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It's a sad thing to say in the current times most people have no real human feelings towards each other and they are too much obsessed with material things and looks. Perhaps there is more racism and discrimination in the current times than before when there was little information and people were less educated. It's good to go out and eat, but the kind of relationship most people establish here is that of material gains. In case one lacks that money to go out and eat, then he has to lead a solitary life.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites