National / Social Issues

All by myself: From dining to camping, more Japanese women are going 'soloist' as stigma fades

Kyodo

From dining out to camping, more Japanese women are doing things alone.

In the past, women without family members, partners or friends were commonly looked upon in a negative light. This view has been changing as “soloists” as they are called grow in number.

One who has been helping to change the perception of such women is freelance writer Mayumi Asai. One day last month she could be found picking strawberries at a farm in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture.

Unlike the majority of visitors, who comprised couples and families, Asai had come by herself. After picking a few dozen strawberries, she went on to take pictures of the cherry blossoms along a nearby river.

The 33-year-old Asai began striking out on her own as a university student after a female friend who had grown up abroad told her she liked to eat at ramen restaurants by herself. Asai had always felt it was a burden to have to consider the feelings of others when hanging out in a group, but this disappeared when she followed the example of her friend and began dining on her own.

“I realized that I had been bound to the idea that dinner needed to be enjoyed in a group,” she said.

Once she entered the workforce, Asai began to do even more by herself — from treating herself to full-course dinners to going to the zoo — and posting blogs and publishing books about her experiences.

Her writing has garnered support from like-minded individuals who comment that they also enjoy undertaking activities by themselves and want experiences similar to hers.

“You make your own decisions, so you get the chance to face yourself,” Asai said. “There is no feeling of loneliness, only one of significance and accomplishment.”

A woman in Kyoto Prefecture who went camping by herself for the first time last fall mentioned how she was “tired of adjusting myself to others.”

“It took a lot of effort to set up the tent and cook the rice, but I was able to spend quality time by myself,” the 29-year-old said contentedly.

According to a 2015 study by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, 48 percent of men and 36 percent of women responded that they would not feel lonely if they were to spend the rest of their lives by themselves, up 7 percentage points from the previous study five years before.

As the number of people who enjoy doing things on their own increases, companies are offering new services and products for solo customers.

At a branch of Hakata Motsunabe Oyama, Fukuoka-based hot pot restaurant operator LAV has made it easier for solo customers to enjoy a dish more commonly shared with others. They are given a designated seat at the counter — and more than half of the customers are women, according to the restaurant.

“Many women come here during a solo or work trip and take pictures (of the dish) to upload to their social media,” said Yasuhiro Yoshimoto, who manages the branch.

Kazuhisa Arakawa, head of a research group focusing on solo activities set up by advertising company Hakuhodo DY Holdings Inc., said the idea of being alone began to correlate with independence about four years ago, influenced by social media.

Many people believed they would get married someday, but “those days are over,” Arakawa said.

“It’s becoming impossible to ignore those who live solitary lives,” he said. “We may be entering a time when everyone can enjoy solo activities, regardless of their gender, age and marital status.”