• Kyodo

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When her mother passed away, a 59-year-old single woman was struck with a sense of absolute loneliness.

“There were times when I didn’t speak to anyone on weekends, and I felt a sense of crisis, thinking I shouldn’t live on like this,” said the woman, a Japanese language teacher who asked not to be named.

She moved in to what is known as a collective house, a concept similar to a shared house but one that offers a little more privacy. Collective houses typically have a common living and dining space but private bathrooms and kitchens.

Residents of Collective House Seiseki in the Tokyo city of Tama, where the woman lives, take turns cleaning the common areas.

The building had 26 residents in 16 households as of the end of July. They ranged in age from infants to people in their 80s.

Collective houses are gradually being looked to by single middle-aged people and seniors as a way to live with others while retaining a measure of privacy.

“After moving in, I dislocated my shoulder one night, but I was helped by one of the other residents, who called an ambulance and came with me to the hospital,” she said.

When the devastating 2011 Tohoku quake rattled Tokyo, residents stuck together, sharing food and drinks.

There is a great mix of ages and backgrounds. On the day a reporter visited, a 4-year-old girl was nearby during an interview, blowing bubbles.

Later that day, many residents gathered in the dining room where curry was served, made by the duty cook. Whether to eat and when is up to each resident.

While residents take turns cleaning and making dinner once or twice a month, the elderly handle less physically demanding tasks, such as assisting with cooking rather than going shopping and carrying heavy luggage.

“It’s sometimes bothersome since everything is decided through negotiations, but it always teaches me a lesson, since there are people in all sorts of ages and backgrounds,” said Yuki Yahata, a 34 year-old office worker who lives there with his wife and 1-year-old child.

Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Collective Housing Corporation operates 20 houses, including the Tama property. Units vary in size from one room to two-bedroom flats with a private combined living room, kitchen and dining area, with monthly rent ranging from ¥60,000 to ¥140,000.

The nonprofit says briefing sessions are increasingly attended by people in their 50s and 60s who are widowed or divorced.

The group says collective housing started in Northern Europe and became more common after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. Many young people now are open to sharing a roof with others, even after they get married or start raising a family. As such, the ages and occupations of residents are diverse.

Mie Karino, director of the NPO, said: “There are people who wish to be connected with the others while at the same time staying independent, regardless of whether they have a child or not. With a decreasing birthrate and an aging population, it could become a new way of living.”

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