Japan is known to be a collective society, where the interests of the group trump individual desires. Still, something called ‘super solo culture’ or ‘ohitorisama’ (one person) has been steadily rising in Japan for years. While decades ago there was still some shame in venturing out by yourself, nowadays many establishments especially cater to solo customers. What has happened? And where can you go for a nice solo experience in Japan?
Japan’s Changing Demographics
Attitudes to living your life alone without a partner and children have been gradually shifting in the last decade. Before, family life was seen as the most aspirational lifestyle. But lately, younger people think that general independence and family flexibility are more acceptable.
Also, as you are probably aware, the demographic make-up of Japan has dramatically changed in the last 4 decades. From a society with extended families at its base, Japan changed to a country with a large population of elderly. At the same time, more and more people live single and fewer people are getting married. This is especially the case in large cities like and Osaka. Of course, if you live alone you also tend to be the only one responsible for your income. This means that many younger single people work long hours and don’t have much time to go out with friends or family.
They often opt for a quick dinner near their workplace at a time that is convenient for them, and these days, many restaurants have very single-diner-friendly seats. Noodle bars are prime examples of this, but even traditionally group-oriented places like family restaurants see many solo customers. There are just as many small tables as family tables available, so it doesn’t feel awkward to go by yourself. Plus, you are by far not the only one dining solo anymore. During downtime, they are also happy to seat solo visitors in comfortable bench seats.
Economic Reasons for Super Solo Trend
Japan’s shrinking population means that sales markets are shrinking for companies who used to be spoilt with abundance. They have to change their strategies in order to not lose too much profit, and turning to foreign markets is not a popular or possible option for many. So they are looking for new markets within Japan, and some companies have realized that the growing population of singles has great potential.
As it is predicted that by 2040 around half of the adult population will live alone. It would be company suicide not to try and cater to this market segment’s needs. Therefore, companies have started to create a user experience that is more geared to what is pleasant for single users.
One way to do this is to normalize single usage by advertising single-user experiences specifically. That way, the target audience will also know they are not the only ones having the experience alone, which makes it feel less lonely to start with. Another way is to make it comfortable to be a single customer or user by, for example, creating spaces for solo use only.
Super Solo Culture Spots
So where would you need to go to experience places that are specifically catering to super solo culture? Noodle bars and family restaurants are by far not the only ohitorisama-friendly spots in Japan. Some establishments that you would really not expect it from are actually very much attuned to the needs of solo users.
Believe it or not, but karaoke room establishments are some of the most common providers for solo experiences. Up to 40% of their customer base is people who come to sing their hearts out by themselves! Singing is a known outlet for pent-up frustrations, and singing alone means that you can go all-out. Some rooms even offer the option to record your own singing. A company called 1kara is specialized in this.
Some ryokan offer special packages for people who want to get away from it all for one or a few nights. Ryokan lend themselves to this type of trip anyway because they usually have comfortable bedrooms with gorgeous views. Meals can be served in the room. The bathing experience is usually with other guests of the same gender and is often enjoyed without the partner anyway.
And finally, going to a bar is a traditional social activity that most would only do alone if they expect to meet friends. But now there is Bar Hitori in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Established in 2018, this bar has a solo-only policy. This puts those who are still a bit insecure at ease and creates an open and friendly atmosphere.
So let go of your embarrassment and join the solo movement. You’re not hurting anyone by going out by yourself, and it can be truly relaxing to enjoy your activity or stay without distractions.
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