• SHARE

The pandemic has forced many people to stay inside and, in many cases, to tend to themselves. Some have embraced the solitude; others have struggled with the lack of social interaction. For Big in Japan, Michael Hoffman looks at what the tabloids have to say about the pluses and minuses of being “o-hitorisama (by oneself), from the trends of solo camping to dying alone (kodokushi).

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga officially tasked one of his minister with overseeing government efforts to address the pandemic-impacted issue of loneliness and isolation. At a news conference, regional revitalization minister Tetsushi Sakamoto pointed two alarming trends: the prevalence of mental stress among women; and an increase in suicide.

According to preliminary figures released by the National Police Agency, 20,919 people took their own lives in 2020, up 750 from the previous year and marking the first year-on-year increase in 11 years. | GETTY IMAGES
According to preliminary figures released by the National Police Agency, 20,919 people took their own lives in 2020, up 750 from the previous year and marking the first year-on-year increase in 11 years. | GETTY IMAGES

Tomohiro Osaki explores the vague Japanese term kodoku — and the difficulty of differentiating between empowering independence and debilitating isolation. The forecast of those who live alone is expected to reach 40% in 2040, nearly double that figure in 1970. One expert noted that the pandemic has forced single people to reassess what they call home (from a place to crash to a place to live) and the necessity of a local safety net.

One strategy — just talking to someone about it — doesn’t come so easy in Japan, partly due to the stigma of psychiatric care or even discussing the topic of mental instability. @blossomtheproject, a well-followed Instagram account of  21-year-old student Meg Hoffmann Nakagawa, is aiming to change that and jumpstart more conversations about mental health.

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)