Feb. 25, 2021

Earlier this month, Japan appointed a Minister of Loneliness after the country’s suicide rate went up for the first time in 11 years.


  • Japan’s suicide rate rose in 2020, with 20,919 people taking their lives according to data by the National Police Agency. Most experts believe that the problem of escalating suicides in Japan is tied to the country’s culture of loneliness.

  • Japan’s ageing population — over 20% of the country’s population is more than 65 years old, which is the highest proportion for that category in the world — has created a huge section of middle-aged and older people who feel they have no one to turn to for help and company.

  • Since most ageing people do not socialise much, many of them die alone, with their bodies being discovered a long time after their death. The phenomenon is known as ‘kodokushi’, which means ‘lonely death’.

  • The country also has some of the longest working hours in the world, which leaves people with little opportunity to spend time with their friends or be engaged in hobbies they are interested in. In fact, Japan has a term for sudden occupational mortality — ‘karoshi’, which means death due to overwork.

  • The culture of self-isolation has spiralled to such extremes in the country that there are about one million people who live in absolute self-imposed confinement for many years with no contact with the outside world. These modern-day hermits are called ‘hikikomori’.