Minister of loneliness has busy brief in Japan
Long before the Japanese government appointed a “minister of loneliness” to tackle social isolation, Nozomi suffered a lot from being alone.
Moving to Tokyo from Hokadate, Hokkaido, to work as a flight attendant, the 28-year-old who preferred to use the name Nozomi was diagnosed with depression during Japan’s first COVID-19 emergency last April.
“The result did not surprise me at all because I had long had a persistent feeling of loneliness and sadness,” Nozomi said.
Flight suspensions and route cuts left Nozomi in her apartment most of the time, causing her depression to spiral.
She tried all kinds of dating applications, but there were times when she could not stop crying.
Living in a country where hitorigurashi — Japanese for living alone — was once an exception rather than the norm, Nozomi is not alone.
Data from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare showed more than one-third of all households in Japan are solo dwellers. That number is growing.
Japan’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research forecast people living alone will make up nearly 40 percent of all households by 2040.
To address the issue, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto as the nation’s first Minister of Loneliness.
“Women are suffering from isolation more, and the number of suicides is on a rising trend. I hope you will identify problems and promote policy measures,” Suga told Sakamoto.
Sakamoto said he wanted to “prevent social loneliness and isolation and to protect ties between people”. He said the pandemic has “reduced opportunities for contact with people”, leading to a serious problem.
Sakamoto’s appointment came at a time when Japan’s suicide rate, already one of the highest in the world, saw its first rise in more than a year-on-year decade.
Preliminary figures by the National Police Agency showed 20,919 people took their own lives in 2020, up 750 from the previous year.
Some 15 percent more women committed suicide than last year but fewer men did so than in 2019. Overall, suicides increased by slightly less than 4 percent.
“I think the first thing to do to fight against loneliness in Japan is to change people’s mindset,” said Yu Qiang, a professor of Japan studies at the University of International Relations in Beijing, adding that feeling lonely is regarded as showing weakness to people in Japan.