The Japanese books that are making loneliness popular
Posted by Bijal Shah on
Reading has always been a great literary cure for loneliness. However when it stops acting as a cure and instead becomes a channel through which loneliness becomes a popular state of existence, that’s when alarm bells start ringing.
This is nowhere more notable than in Japan where a third of all households live alone. More over 65-year-olds live alone than anywhere else in the world. 30% of men and women will never marry by the year 2030. With such alarming statistics, it is no surprise that a new genre in literature is emerging: one that celebrates and praises the solitary state.
With many books written on the power of loneliness, these are fast climbing the bestseller ranks and showcasing loneliness as a form of freedom, liberation and independence. Stop fearing loneliness — embrace it and you will feel empowered is the theme of these books.
The most popular of all books is Kodoku no Susume by Hiroyuki Itsuki, which translates to “Advice for the Lonely”. Itsuki focuses on humans becoming more lonely in older age; advising that this should be embraced rather than feared. A buddhist scholar, Itsuki, almost promotes the Buddhist and Jain concepts of detachment — removing all attachment including those to family and friends, to ultimately remove all suffering that is caused through the death or loss of a loved one. According to Itsuki, embracing this detachment empowers us, removing our fear of being lonely; and to some extent leaves us feeling fulfilled.
Akiko Shimoju’s popular Gokujou no Kodoku, another bestseller, translates to “Supreme Solitude” and questions why loneliness is seen as a bad thing. Many of the books in the genre depict loneliness as a relief from having to get people to like you. It also provides true freedom from family commitments and constraints.
For an empire that is slowly become the loneliest on the planet, this might be their only chance of survival and a way to embrace an inevitable fate as explained in Junko Okamoto’s Sekai Ichi Kodoku na Nihon no Ojisan which translates to “Japan’s Old Men are the World’s Loneliest”.
A female writer, Sayaka Murata, has written several award-winning books centred on loneliness including Shiro-oro no machi no, sono hone no taion no(Of Bones, of Body Heat, of Whitening City) winner of the Yukio Mishima Prize in 2013 and more recently the Convenience Store Woman which won the 2016 Akutagawa Award. Many of her characters are lonely people who describe their observations, feelings and desire to exist in solitude. The characters revolve around convenience store customers (Murata works at one of Japan’s many convenience stores) who prefer to eat alone or shop alone. She eloquently depicts these colourful characters and why they choose this path, shying away from the judgement of society who expect the opposite of them, refusing to understand their preferences.
Whilst these books offer food for thought and may open your eyes to a different state of being, you may prefer to cure your loneliness rather than embrace it. Four wonderful books might help as literary remedies for loneliness:
- The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman — an award-winning masterpiece of suspense and great storytelling, this fantasy tale about a child on a quest to save another will give the Narnia and Lord of the Rings series a run for their money. Beautiful characters and imagery, this book will truly whet your appetite for the second and third in His Dark Materials trilogy and is guaranteed to cure boredom and loneliness.
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed — twenty-two year-old Cheryl Strayed captures the life-changing moments that set her on a solitary one-thousand-mile plus hike of the Pacific Crest Trail starting from the Mojave Desert through to California, Oregon and Washington. Motivated by her need to make sense of the loss of her mother and her failed marriage she embarked on this remarkable journey. This incredibly personal account, filled with humour and suspense at every turn, tells a story of healing in the face of significant challenges and terror on the trail. Selected for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 Wild is Cheryl’s bibliotherapy, a story that she had to tell for the sake of personal redemption.
- I, Claudius by Robert Graves about the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius who was born 10 B.C. into the royal family at the time. Embarrassed by his physically disability and non-stop stuttering, the royal family downgraded his role to imperial affairs. Claudius took to studying and became a historian and scholar. As the other members of the family were murdered one by one through betrayal by insiders, he managed to survive them and became emperor of Rome. Highly entertaining, it will make you grateful about your position in life.
- Tales of A City by Armistead Maupin about 1970s San Francisco in its hey days with a diverse range of characters in a fabulous soap opera style novel that will leave you feeling content, fulfilled and happy to be who you are.
What are your thoughts on loneliness — embrace solitude or cure loneliness? Please do share down below in the comments section!
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Thanks Pryana! Glad you enjoyed the article :) That’s fascinating that women prisoners are resorting to shoplifting in an attempt to feel part of the community again. I think there is so much more Japan could do to help its people from this sad fate and I hope the government will implement better social policies for the elderly and the youth to reduce this sense of loneliness.
This is a really powerful way of doing something about loneliness. Do you know that in Japan, affluent women pensioners are deliberately shop lifting so that they may go to jail, where they can feel part of a community!