One of the biggest changes in Tokyo women over the past five or so years has been their new-found capacity for solitude. Tokyo joshi (女子, young girls, single women or any female who sees herself as being a relatively free-spirited individual) had been notorious — even among themselves — for their inability to be alone.

From grade school upward, girls were expected to tsurumu (つるむ, stick together like vines) at all hours of their public lives. Now women on their own are everywhere. From hotels and cafes to women-only apartment blocks and urban spas, the sight of a ohitorisama (おひとりさま, reverent lone woman) getting a little respite from the business of living has become common enough that no one gives her a second glance.

Behind the phenomenon is the low, low marriage rate. More women are opting out of long-term commitments that would almost certainly cramp their style. According to a 2009 government survey, women in the Kanto region value their work and financial freedom over marriage unless there is an assurance that their quality of life would go up rather than down. The bad news is: In this day and age it's almost always likely to go down or rather, to plummet to the center of the earth. And the good news? It's so okay to be alone.