They say February is the month of love but take it from one who knows — the Japanese have become increasingly suspicious of the whole Barentain (バレンタイン, Valentine’s) thing as just another marketing ploy to open womens’ purses. And what with the consumption tax kicking in, chances are we’ll see far less of the giri-choko (義理チョコ, obligatory chocolates gift) phenomenon occurring in the workplace from now on. As my friend Kiyomi always likes to say: “Giri-choko kau okane attara onsen ni ikuwa” (「義理チョコ買うお金あったら温泉に行くわ」”If I had money to spend on obligatory chocolates, I’d rather splurge on an onsen”). After all, Japanese women have to take care of themselves — no one else is going to.
“Barentain ni kokuhaku nante arienai” (「バレンタインに告白なんてありえない」 “confessing to love on Valentine’s Day is just not going to happen”) says 42-year-old Fumika, whose last big Valentine’s date happened back in 2008. On that day Fumika had taken fate into her hands and bought a tie from Bulgari, plus the oyakusoku (お約束, promised) box of truffles from Godiva and presented them to the man of her dreams. They dated a total of twice before this dreamboat came out with the dreaded words: “Ore, jitsuwa sukina hitoga irukara” (「俺、実は好きな人がいるから」 “To be honest, I’m in love with someone else”).
After that who can blame the poor woman for becoming a ren’ai hikikomori (恋愛ひきこもり, love recluse)? Since then, Fumika has made a few attempts to sign up at kekkon sōdanjyo (結婚相談所, matchmaking agencies) but gave up in disgust. These days, she’s scouring the Internet for different scenarios on conducting life as an ohitorisama (おひとりさま, honorable solitary person) and finds it much more engrossing than any matchmaking app. Fumika’s plans include the modish share-house cooperative for over 40s singles, pet rentals, shared vacation homes and the increasingly trendy shūkatsu (終活, preparing for one’s demise).
Fumika says that while she hasn’t totally given up on love, what she desires most at this point is a kireina saigo (きれいな最期, beautiful finale) with a small but tasteful funeral, scattering of ashes at a spot where she scuba-dives, and a nice little party for friends and relatives. To this end, she has tentatively booked a ohitorisama saabisu puran (おひとりさまサービスプラン, a service plan for the honorable solitary person) at a shinrai dekiru kaisha (信頼できる会社, trustworthy company) and asked her younger brother to be the executor. “Darenimo meiwaku wo kaketakunai” (「誰にも迷惑をかけたくない」 “I don’t want to be a burden on anyone”) is her mantra. Her brother, also single — has been inspired to do a little shūkatsu research of his own and this has created a bond between them. “Kowainowa kodokushi yori mo kawaisō da to omowareru koto” (「怖いのは孤独死よりもかわいそうだと思われること」”More than the fear of dying alone, I fear being pitied”) the siblings say, echoing the thoughts of many Japanese in their 30s or 40s who suspect they’ll be in the ranks of what the government has dubbed shōgai dokushinsha (生涯独身者, single throughout their entire lives), and therefore, must prepare for their own endings.
Chinamini (ちなみに, by the way), the government estimates that in the year 2050, the number of Japanese who will spend their entire adult lives single will reach 60 percent for men and 49 percent for women. Moreover, there’s a depressing statistic that says only 3 percent of men and 2 percent of women over 35 ever manage to tie the knot.
Back in the 20th century, a huge Japanese fear was to face death in a hospital bed, unconscious and hooked to tubes. This was bad, since everyone wanted to be aware of family visitors and to show off that number (the more the better) to fellow elderly patients. One of the reasons for having children at all was rōgo no mendō wo mitemorautame (老後のめんどうを見てもらうため, to be taken care of in old age) or saigo wo mitotte morautame (最期を看取ってもらうため, to be there and witness the ending) — tasks which inevitably fell on the shoulders of the chōnan (長男, eldest son) and chōjo (長女, eldest daughter), who were expected to have spouses and children, and live with their old parents in the same house until death.
Now the Japanese are far less family-oriented, and much more inclined to venture outside the traditional box. It’s every ohitorisama for him or herself out there, and women feel it more acutely than men. Buy a box of chocolates and say the words of love? Pffft. Mendokusai (めんどくさい, what a hassle)! Which is probably why Japan’s longevity continues to be so high, while the sight of children grows scarcer with each passing year.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.