Many people in Japan feel that slapping some meat down on a sizzling grill while chatting about your day is a fundamentally social experience. That’s probably why you’ll get some strange looks if you go into a yakiniku restaurant and ask for a table for one. But a new restaurant in Ueno has taken away the stigma for lonely yakiniku lovers.

Hitori (one person), which opened on April 14, caters exclusively to solo diners. Each booth in the restaurant is equipped with its own grill and servings are just enough for one. The layout is reminiscent of an Internet cafe as the booths shield the diner from prying eyes, allowing them to indulge their carnivorous gluttony without shame.

Rocket News, who went to evaluate this new dining experience, gave it the thumbs up, describing the meat as extremely reasonable for the price: slices of karubi (beef ribs), for instance, come in at ¥250 and harami (tender meat from the diaphragm) is ¥190. They also think the restaurant will be a big hit with female diners.

According to “What Japan Thinks” a survey taken in 2009 by DIMSDRIVE shows that Japanese diners are particularly reluctant to eat yakiniku alone: Only 4 percent of respondents said they often ate out alone at yakiniku restaurants. The survey also showed that while women are comfortable eating out in fast food restaurants and cafes, they were significantly less likely to eat out alone in sushi bars, ramen stores, beef bowl restaurants and izakaya (taverns).

Earlier this year we reported on a growing trend for women dining out on ramen. But while female-friendly ramen shops are sprouting up, many women are intimidated to dine out alone in typical ramen stores. “Why is it so difficult for women to enter ramen restaurants alone?” asked noname#114057 on the web forum Osheite! goo.  “It’s because women need more personal space,” yuki360679 answered. “Places like ramen stores and beef bowl restaurants have really cramped seating that doesn’t appeal to women.” Other opinions on the forum pointed to the fact that the atmosphere was very male-orientated and that women like to enjoy conversation with their meal.

The market for solitary female diners is potentially rich but the problem of making them feel comfortable remains. Counter bars, where food and drink can be ordered in a more convivial environment, are an obvious option but women don’t tend to feel as comfortable dining at these places as men. My local counter bar, for instance, does have a few female customers but the majority of clientele are guys. One bar, named Ginza ade2, encourages women on their way home to stop in for a drink and a bite to eat alone by employing handsome young male bartenders who are trained to make the female clientele feel comfortable.

Solitary dining has long been acceptable for businessmen simply refueling or winding down after a long day at the office. If restaurants can adapt their environments to appeal to women by providing friendly non-judgmental service, a sense of privacy or at least personal space, then lone women could soon be joining their ranks.

Photo: By mypicture (mypicture) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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