The emergence of the solo consumerThe share of one-person households in Japan has been rising over the past decades and is expected to grow to at least 40 percent by 2040. To stay profitable, businesses will need to focus on the growing purchasing power, and consequently, the specific needs of the emerging solo consumer. Those needs, however, vary greatly. The profiles of consumers leading single lives are diverse, ranging from students, unmarried adults, and divorcees, to elderly people. Yet, one of those demographic groups is likely to attract the attention of businesses in particular. Japan is among the fastest-greying nations in the world, thus, the silver consumer holds enormous potential for marketers, as this clientele has both time and money to spend. Offering options to feel less alone, especially to those having to face widowhood, may benefit the individuals as well as stimulate economic growth.
While Japan is not the only nation facing demographic change, the country’s shift from a nuclear family-centered nation to a single culture society is happening comparably fast. In cultures where doing things individually is less of a novelty, the evolution of solo societies might be less pronounced. Yet, due to the high visibility of this ongoing shift in Japanese society, Japan may become a blueprint of how to cater to a single-focused nation.
Extremely alone: hikikomori, the modern-day hermitsAn example of how an unnatural approach to group mentality can take a turn for the worse is the phenomenon of so-called hikikomori, modern-day hermits. The term, coined in the late 1990s, describes the condition as well as the sufferer of physical isolation, social avoidance, and psychological distress. For many hikikomori, hiding in reclusion was triggered by not living up to social expectations and conformity. Losing access to the security of the group resulted in social anxiety and subsequently social withdrawal.
Hikikomori might be an extreme form of living life alone. But it demonstrates that if a society does not adapt to social change, it might be heading towards a dead-end. Single culture is gaining more relevance in Japanese society. Simultaneously, the risk of mental distress due to loneliness is likely to increase. By creating novel ways of human interaction adjusted to meet the needs of people living alone, a new sense of community might arise. After all, leading a fulfilling solo life requires the strength to connect with other people. Ohitorisama activities are not gaining popularity by fostering feelings of separation, but by allowing people to choose between two options: to either consciously enjoy single activities alone or to meet other people, who are also going solo. By picking the latter option, activities targeting single consumers are helping to create a community not based on family ties, colleagues, or regional affiliations, but on shared interests or a similar lifestyle. Thus promoting a new way of connecting people in a fast-moving social setting, that otherwise may lead to a society of loneliness and seclusion.