Results from Japan's national census last year are dribbling in and the reaction in the media often focuses on one pair of statistics: The number of households is increasing while population is declining, which means that there are a lot more single-person households than there were 10 years ago and there will be even more 10 years from now. In fact, experts predict that single-person households will be the dominant demographic in a short time, and many if not most of them will be occupied by lonely old people, presumably with no families to fall back on, thus placing even greater strain on an already overburdened social welfare system.
Asahi Shimbun covered this issue in a multipart series of articles for which the editors coined a word, kozoku, that combines the characters for "loneliness" and "group." Prime Minister Naoto Kan has already adopted the term for a government-sponsored panel to study the phenomenon. Though Japan's graying society and low birthrate have been hot topics for years, the series approaches them from a different angle, with a sense of chickens coming home to roost. Japan's dark future is not due to the serendipity of markets and changing social values, though those aspects do have their impacts. The series implies that the "kozoku country" Japan is turning into is the logical outcome of the entire postwar experiment.
In an editorial adjunct to the series, editor Hiroki Manabe says he was inspired by a helicopter flight over Chiba and Kanagawa Prefectures that revealed a vast expanse of "carbon copy" houses. After the war, government policy and the attendant media message said that social life should adhere to one model: a man who is a lifetime employee of a company; a woman who is a wife, mother and housekeeper; and a home that they own. Because this model prevailed, it is easy to disregard what an enormous undertaking it was to achieve in the course of a single generation. It required the construction of a rigid welfare and education system that places society's burdens squarely on the shoulders of nuclear families.