Super Solo Culture: Why More People Choose to Live Alone
Wed, April 21, 2021

Super Solo Culture: Why More People Choose to Live Alone

The share of adults who live alone has skyrocketed. In the US, one-person households almost doubled in the last 50 years. The trend has also increasingly become common in other countries, such as in Japan / Photo by: Andriy Popov via 123RF


The share of adults who live alone has skyrocketed. In the US, one-person households almost doubled in the last 50 years. The trend has also increasingly become common in other countries, such as in Japan. Thus, the rise of the super solo culture.

Super Solo Culture

If 10 years ago many people in Japan were embarrassed to be seen eating alone in the office cafeteria or at school that they would rather eat in the bathroom, the culture has now changed. The culture no longer focuses on the benjo-meshi (toilet meal) because more people are going through their life alone. BBC, for instance, featured Miki Tateishi, a bartender who works in Bar Hitori in Tokyo. The bar started its operation in 2018 and is intentionally designed for solo drinkers.

Tateishi said in an interview that although there are people who prefer to build a community, there are people who “enjoy being alone.” She describes the solo only rule they observe in their bar that helps guests who may otherwise be turned off if they see regulars or big groups. She said that the bar has a laid-back setting that allows customers to drink by themselves but the tight quarters make it also easy for others to interact.

Alone Time

Today, the term ohitorisama, which means “party for one” is popular in Japan. There are even plenty of photos on Instagram that show restaurants that serve meals for one, transport and campgrounds for solo adventurers, and cinema hallways meant for those without company. In the last year, many people have declared their love for alone time or ohitorisama both in social media and news.

Solitary Singers for Single-Person Karaoke Bars

Another innovation in Japan that highlights alone time is hitori yakiniku, wherein one person can grill and eat the mountains of pork, beef, and chicken in a restaurant table. Single-person karaoke bars have also become popular in the country. Tokyo-based solo karaoke company 1Kara’s sales manager Daiki Yamatani said that demand for one-person karaoke increased between 30 to 40%. This led the company to change large group karaoke rooms to phone both-sized private recording rooms.

The ohitorisama movement has created a major shift in Japan, BBC added. In other countries, being seen solo may not be surprising. American actress and former model Christina Hendricks, for instance, posted #solodate or #selfdate photos as she watched a concert. British star Emma Watson also declared being “self-partnered” and how she enjoys the single life. Even solo travels have paved the way for the careers of many social media influencers. But Japan is a country where being in a group has been a big deal or highly-prized. The country’s 125 million people are fit into an archipelago that is only slightly bigger than Germany and about four-fifths of Japan’s land is uninhabitable and mountainous. This is the reason why fitting with other people and collectivity has been highlighted in Japan.

Economic research firm Nomura Research Institute’s senior consultant Motoko Matsushita said that since Japan is a small country, people need to coexist. Matsushita studies the future and origins of ohitorisama. She went on to say that since they are focused in Japan to live in harmony with others, there was peer pressure in the past to do things in a group.

Today, the negative pressure of alone time has been reduced.  The social pressure of having a child or getting married is also decreasing, Matsushita added. In a survey involving 10,000 participants conducted by Matsushita, the increased behavior towards independence in Japan as well as family flexibility started in 2015 and 2018. More Japanese today than in the past feel okay with divorce even if there are kids.

What Causes the Super Solo Culture in Japan?

One of the reasons behind the rise of the super solo culture in Japan is the seismic demographic shift. Last year, the birthrate fell as only 864,000 babies were born. It is Japan’s lowest birth rate record since 1899. Meanwhile, single-person households in 1995 were only at 25% and rose to more than 35% in 2015. This was based on Japan’s census data. Another contributing factor why there is a rise in the super solo culture is that marriage rates also declined. These are the reasons why more businesses are catering to the changing needs in Japan.

Another ohitorisama interviewed by BBC is Erika Miura, 22. She works in the IT industry and enjoys doing things alone, such as skiing, singing in karaoke, and watching movies. She shared that ohitorisama gives her more freedom.

One-Person Households: Statistics

Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems, also srared that it was uncommon for people to live alone in the past but this has changed in the past decade. In Japan, the percentage of one-person households in 1960 was at 16.51%, slowly increasing to 20.26% in 1970. Ten years after, it slightly dropped to 19.83 and increased again in 1985 to 20.79%. Japan’s census data details the percentage of one-person households as follows: 1990 (23.09%), 1995 (25.60%), 2000 (27.60%), 2005 (29.47%), 2010 (32.38%), and 2015 (34.53%).

Comparing the data with South Korea and the USA, their percentage of one-person households in 2010 was at 23.89% and 26.71%, respectively. Countries with the highest number of one-person households in 2015 includes Germany (41.2%), Norway (44.3%), Sweden (41.6%), Finland (40.9%), Switzerland (37.5%), Estonia (36.3%), Iceland (31.1%), Canada (27.58%), United States (27.99%), Botswana (27.89%), and Japan (34.53%).

On the other hand, countries with the lowest number of one-person households include Nicaragua (4.59%), Guatemala (4.33%), Senegal (7.22%), Mali (3.21%), Niger (3.19%), Sudan (5.06%), Chad (7.73%), Ethiopia (7.52%), India (7.66%), Afghanistan (0.19%), Philippines (4.97%), and Indonesia (8.26%).

The data shows that prosperity and living arrangements are strongly connected to the number of one-person households. The chart likewise shows that more people are likely to live alone if they are in rich countries. The percentage is also higher in countries where the GDP per capita has increased.

Humans are social beings but this does not mean we cannot choose to live or do things alone. It can be a wonderful experience and a great time for learning and independence, too.