By Yen Hyoung Cho
One of the most prestigious Universities in Japan— Kyoto University—has installed a new cafeteria seating for alone diners who wish to avoid awkward social interaction with unfamiliar faces. Known as “Bocchi Seki,” with “Bocchi” meaning “alone (loner)” and “Seki” meaning “seat” in Japanese, has become a popular dining space for the engineering campus of this public school.
The seats consist of ten normal dining tables with 50-centimeter barriers in the middle, preventing eye-contact with others. It was designed for the convenience of busy students who want to avoid the pressure of having to socialize while eating; allowing them to have some privacy when surrounded by strangers and escape the embarrassment of eating alone.
Following Kyoto University’s example, Kobe University has also recently installed the “Bocchi Seki,” helping students to avoid awkward interaction. In short, encouraging unsocial behavior.
Recently in Japan, the entertainment and restaurant markets have begun to target consumers who wish to enjoy facilities alone. Services such as “Hito-Kara,” a Karaoke booth for one person, have become a popular time-killer for solos who are too shy to walk into a karaoke parlor with no companions. Other forms of entertainment such as manga cafes have isolated rooms for single customers, and Ichi-Ran; a Ramen shop, has blocked their tables with boarders to protect the privacy of the diners while they eat.
The question is, however, how has this happened and what are the effects on society?
The “Hikikomori” phenomenon— the Japanese term for “people who are socially withdrawn” (to the point of locking themselves up in their room) has created this new culture in Japan. According to the government figures released in 2010, there are 700,000 individuals living as hikikomori with the numbers heading towards an increase. Although, Hikikomori may be the extreme case of enjoying one’s privacy through isolation, there certainly are a proportion of individuals who values solitude. To support the increasing number of individuals who enjoy privacy, the market has come to adapt to it.
Looking at the current state of society, people-to-people interaction is decreasing, and it has become a norm to enjoy entertainment and goods in solitary. There is no social problem in enjoying these facilities alone, however the only down side to being antisocial is that social isolation is said to be linked to earlier death than the average mortality age.
According to the publications in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, when mental and physical health conditions were factored out, the lack of social contact led to death 10 years earlier than average among 6,500 men and women tracked over the past seven-years. Not only is loneliness a player in early death, but having no social contact also acts as the initiator to health issues such as higher blood pressure, intensified reaction to stress— and thus a lowered immune response due to poorer lifestyle choices.
Japan has been known as the country with the longest life-expectancy. But, with the population becoming more solitary because of their busy daily lives, the future of Japan does not seem to be too bright.
Yen is a 2nd year PEAK student at the College of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo.