Feb 27

WIT Life #351: Loneliness in the time of Corona

Professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

The ongoing coronavirus is taking its toll on each of us in different ways. The rise in 自殺 (jisatsu or suicide) and other 絶望死 (zetsuboushi or deaths of despair) that we are seeing here in the U.S. is also being seen in Japan. To combat its own 孤独という伝染病 (kodoku to iu densenbyou or loneliness epidemic), the Japanese government appointed its first Minister of Loneliness, Tetsushi Sakamoto. He was already in government as the minister in charge of raising Japan’s low birthrate and revitalizing regional economies.

Japan recently appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto as its first Minister of Loneliness

Despite only recently taking on the additional role, Sakamoto has already introduced an emergency national forum to discuss the issue and share the testimony of lonely individuals. The hope is that via knowledge gained from this and other efforts, he will be able to implement policies designed to fight isolation and lower suicide rates. The government also set up a task force spanning various ministries that seeks to address the problem of loneliness, coordinated by Sakamoto.

I asked friends in Kumamoto what they thought of this new initiative, but it was the first they had heard of it. Here in the States it has received decent news coverage (even in the Onion!), and the U.K. made a splash in 2018 when it became the first country to dedicate a cabinet member to the role of reducing its citizens’ loneliness.

An interesting point made in this Japan Times article is that the Japanese word kodoku refers to loneliness as well as solitude, leading the two concepts to be lumped together. Perhaps better linguistic differentiation is needed to champion the joys of solitude while attempting to remedy loneliness. For example, 孤独死 (kodokushi) is the phenomenon of elderly people dying alone and remaining undiscovered for some time due to their 孤立 (koritsu or isolation), whereas 極上の孤独 (Gokujo no Kodoku or First-Class Solitude) is a 2018 Japanese book celebrating solitude.

Please make sure to keep reaching out to your loved ones, as we are all susceptible to falling into the depths of loneliness during these socially distant times.

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