On my own: More Japanese opting for solo activities

Mr Masaki Kitakoga singing alone in a tiny booth at a karaoke parlour in Tokyo. Mr Kitakoga is part of a growing trend in Japan favouring solo activities that is now so widespread it has its own name: “ohitorisama” or “on your own”.
Mr Masaki Kitakoga singing alone in a tiny booth at a karaoke parlour in Tokyo. Mr Kitakoga is part of a growing trend in Japan favouring solo activities that is now so widespread it has its own name: “ohitorisama” or “on your own”. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • Every so often, 33-year-old Masaki Kitakoga slips into a tiny booth with a desk and a chair and belts out karaoke tunes for 90 minutes - completely on his own.

Mr Kitakoga is part of a growing trend in Japan favouring solo activities that is now so widespread it has its own name: "ohitorisama" or "on your own".

Analysts say Japan’s demographic make-up - over one-third of households have just one person - makes it perfect for the solo market, with many also craving "me time" in a fast-paced, interconnected and workaholic society. Karaoke, in many ways the archetypal social activity, is a case in point.

"It’s a truly liberating experience," said Mr Kitakoga. "I like to sing. But beyond that, this lets me shake off stress."

Signs of the ohitorisama are everywhere in Japan, from cinemas offering seats with partitions to theme parks that let singles jump the queue on certain rides.

Grocery stores sell condiments and vegetables for single diners while travel agents design itineraries aimed at the solo voyager. The "super solo society" has become a buzzword among social scientists and marketing gurus.

Surveys show Japanese consumers - especially younger ones - rate quality time alone above hours spent with family and friends. Official data shows the ratio of households with parents and children is gradually shrinking as fewer adults form relationships.

In 1980 in Japan, only one in 50 men had never been married by the age of 50 and one in 22 women. That ratio is now one in four and one in seven, respectively.

In 1980 in Japan, only one in 50 men had never been married by the age of 50 and one in 22 women. That ratio is now one in four and one in seven, respectively.

The demographic shift comes as Japan also grapples with a rapidly ageing population, with nearly 28 per cent of Japanese people over the age of 65.

And the pace of modern life with ubiquitous social media is also pushing this trend, experts say, as fatigued people seek relief from round-the-clock contact.

Mr Kitakoga, the karaoke fan, also enjoys solo travel, taking himself off alone to a remote island in southern Japan last year.

"Sure, it would have been fun to travel with friends too. But I knew what I wanted to do there and it was fantastic because I was able to do everything I wanted to do at the pace I wanted to do it," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2018, with the headline 'On my own: More Japanese opting for solo activities'. Print Edition | Subscribe