Japan has become the second country after the UK to appoint a ‘Minister of Loneliness’. The Japanese government has tasked a cabinet minister with addressing concerns of increasing isolation among people, but why?
The calls for government action on the issue of loneliness were made from the private sector, according to reports. The Japan Times reported that Koki Ozora, a 22-year-old student of Keio University, had set up a nonprofit organization to operate a chat-based consultation service in March 2020.
She revealed that the organization received more than 300,000 inquiries from about 26,000 people by the end of November. Ozara told the news website that loneliness was the common topic of their requests for advice.
Ozara along with lawmaker Takako Suzuki had met Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato and proposed a nationwide survey on the issue of loneliness to draw up a basic policy on countermeasures and appoint a minister to lead efforts to tackle the problem.
In January 2021, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party had announced establishing a panel to consider measures to address the issue of loneliness. The matter has become a public health concern, especially with the spread of Coronavirus.
The government has linked the rise in suicides with the loneliness among people. Last year, Japan had witnessed an uptick in the number of people taking their own lives.
As per the health ministry’s preliminary data, 20,919 people committed suicide in 2020, which is an increase of 3.7 percent from the previous year. Japan had recorded 3,459 Covid 19-related deaths in the same period.
Japan, which is already dealing with the problem of a declining birthrate, seems serious about addressing the challenge at hand. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga while announcing that Tetsushi Sakamoto would oversee efforts to address the issue of loneliness and isolation, said:
“Women are suffering from isolation more [than men are], and the number of suicides is on a rising trend. I hope you will identify problems and promote policy measures comprehensively.”
Noting that the pandemic has reduced opportunities for contact with people, Sakamoto said he wanted to use the position to “prevent social loneliness and isolation and to protect ties between people.”
It is yet to be seen that what kind of strategy the minister will formulate to address the issue. In 2018, the then UK Prime Minister Theresa May had also appointed a minister for loneliness after a report revealed that nine million people in the country often or always feel lonely.