A growing number of people are eating alone for more than half of the week, mirroring a rise in the number of single-person households due to a falling birthrate, an aging society, and changes in household composition, according to a government report approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday.
The white paper on shokuiku (dietary education) said 11 percent of the surveyed 1,786 respondents were having meals on their own almost every day, and another 4.3 percent said they were four to five days a week.
The combined 15.3 percent of such diners marks a rise of 5 percentage points from the level in 2011, the first year the government posed the question during its annual dietary education survey.
The most recent survey was conducted in November and December, targeting people aged 20 and over.
Noting that people who eat with others tend to have a better nutritional balance, the government called for holding dining occasions among local communities, as it expects more elderly people to be living on their own in the coming years.
In 2015, the percentage of people aged 65 and over who were living on their own stood at 21.1 percent for women and 13.3 percent for men. The figures are estimated to hit 24.5 percent and 20.8 percent, respectively, in 2040, according to the white paper.
Of those surveyed who eat alone, 35.5 percent said they do not want to dine alone but are forced to as their schedules do not fit with others’, and 31.1 percent said they have no choice as they do not have someone to eat with.
A total of 27.3 percent said they do not mind eating alone and find it convenient, according to the report.
It said a rise in the number of singles, including single parents, and couples without other family members, is reflected in the trend.
The white paper on shokuiku has been compiled every year since Japan enacted a law on basic dietary education in 2005, dealing with topics such as food loss and food safety, as well as how often people eat breakfast with their families.
The latest report also showed people who frequently eat with others tend to eat a balanced meal with a staple food, main dish and side dishes more often, and people who are mindful of what they eat tend to eat with others more often.
While the survey only covered adults, many children also eat alone in Japan. Growing concerns about them have already led to the creation of makeshift cafeterias serving free or low-cost meals to allow them to gather and eat together.
Since the establishment of the first such children’s diners in 2012 in Tokyo, hundreds more have been launched across the country, with their activities expanding to dietary education and learning assistance, among others. Many of the cafeterias serve adults accompanying the children and elderly people as well.
The report said some 70 percent of the cafeterias the government surveyed said they are careful about providing a balanced and complete meal and using seasonal ingredients.
“While people are aware that it is important to eat together with family members, they have difficulties in doing so as they or their families are busy working,” the report said.