The idea that a group is more important than an individual is drummed into many Japanese from childhood. However, this mentality could be about to change.

After spending months in relative isolation due to COVID-19, an increasing number of people are developing a newfound self-awareness in their own personal needs.

Companies are now starting to get in on the act, offering goods and services that target individuals in the “solo” market that has already been thriving in recent years.

More than 18 million people are believed to live in single-person households in Japan, with many concentrated in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area. It’s a market of enormous potential and one that businesses are keen to exploit.

This was hardly the case a few months ago when news outlets were focused on the plight of families as they struggled to juggle school closures and remote work.

However, as Japan has adjusted to life with COVID-19 and Tokyo has finally been allowed to join the government-sponsored Go To Travel campaign, eyes have turned toward the consumer spending of urban individuals.

These are essentially people who are adept at being alone and they’ve become hyperattuned to their own needs and desires during the pandemic, whether it’s spending a night alone in a luxury hotel or taking a solitary hike in the mountains. Soloists have honed the art of self-satisfaction, and they’re on the lookout for online hoteliers, consultants, stylists, chefs and other services that will take their concept of “me” to the next level — both virtually and in real life.

Snaq.me, for example, customizes and delivers snacks to an individual’s home that meet all sorts of personal preferences and health needs. Launched by Shintaro Hattori in 2015 as an alternative to cheap, sugar-heavy sweets found in convenience store aisles, Snaq.me claims to “put the joy back into snacking.”

Snaq.me goods range from dried fruit to gluten-free cakes and cookies, and contain no refined sugars or shortening. The company has increased its staff from three to 10 in the past six months, indicating that business during the pandemic has been brisk.

The snag? Snaq.me products don’t come cheap — it costs ¥1,980 for a small box of bite-sized snacks delivered once a month. Some users of the service have complained that the most delicious looking parcels are often sold out and they get stuck with something they don’t really want. Others have complained about the poor cost performance of the items and the elaborate packaging, which is obviously designed for social media.

“I don’t care to post photos of my snacks,” one customer writes on the site. “I just want to eat satisfying portions of healthy, delicious snacks without burning a hole in my wallet.”

Another user also expresses dissatisfaction with the service.

“This may be OK for people who have small children and want to avoid junk food, but I’m not impressed,” they note. Ouch.

The solo market is clearly tricky to navigate, but businesses have been quick to cater to these customers early on in the pandemic.

Restaurants and cafes have divided tables and counters with plexiglass sheets and switched to digitalized services so that solo customers can arrive, eat and leave the premises with the barest minimum of human contact.

On social media there’s no shortage of sites that offer tips on bars, ramen outlets and BBQ eateries that cater to solo customers.

“My boss tells me we shouldn’t eat in groups, so I’ve developed a habit of eating alone,” notes a woman in her 40s in an article on FNN Prime Online. “I quite like it.”

Overall, it appears as if women have been more relaxed about enjoying the solo market, taking advantage of restaurant and hotel deals to optimize their experiences. When that’s done and dusted, there’s always the comfort of home.

Sachie Chikamura, who works as a fitness instructor in Ota Ward, says that she has become her own best friend since the pandemic.

“I spend my nights taking online makeup courses and registering for color tests to see which colors suit me the most,” she says. “I’m also addicted to online fortune telling. Next month, I think I’ll sign up for a personal investment class. I’m not lonely at all. Rather, I’ve learned to value the time I spend with myself.”

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