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