Japanese Minimalist: Post Corona Lifestyle is Less is More

In Japan, many people are living alone. There are many reasons why the Japanese decide to stay single.

According to research from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in 2015, the lifetime unmarried rate for Japanese men was about 23% and for women it was about 14%. By 2030, one out of three men and one out of four women will be unmarried for their lifetime. By 2035, it is predicted that 50% of the Japanese entire population will be single.

But did you know that in the history of Japan, specifically during the Edo period (1603-1868), many Japanese people lived alone and remained single as well? The Edo period was a representative era of modern Japanese culture, and solo living lifestyle was already in full bloom.

In the city of Edo, which is the ancient name for Tokyo, men were single because the male population was about twice as large as the population of women. And additionally, in that era, marriage was only for people of high status. Many people of low status remained unmarried throughout their lives. There are many differences in social conditions between the Edo period and the present day. However, there are striking similarities in the sensibilities of those who prefer to remain single. We wonder if there are some lessons we can learn from the past.

The Birth Of The Table For One, the Birth of Fast-Food Services

In 1721, the population of the city of Edo was approximately 500,000. The male population was 320,000 and women about 180,000. According to historical documents from the end of the Edo period, only half of the men, between the ages of 16 and 60 were married.

There were two main reasons for the overwhelmingly male population; carpenters from all over Japan gathered in the city to build the metropolis of Edo, where one million people lived; many samurai moved to Edo alone for their business who left their family in the provinces. For these reasons, fast food in Japan was developed for single businessmen to eat conveniently and live solo.

A vendor sells soup and food on the street. By Morisada Kitagawa, Morisada mankō
(Morisada’s Sketches)©National Diet Library
A vendor carries fish and sells. By Morisada Kitagawa, Morisada mankō (Morisada’s Sketches)
©National Diet Library

The vendors deliver breakfast and dinner to customers’ houses. In the city, there were food stands for items as sushi and soba opening up all over town, intended for the busy men who worked from morning to night to live easily on their own.

In the picture, a man is cooking. At the end of the Edo period, many cookbooks with a playful touch appeared to enable people to enjoy cooking even if they were not professional cooks. Shokai-ban, a Tale of Cooking(1664)© National Institute of Japanese Literature

Birth of a community: single men lived in groups and helped each other

In Edo, people lived in a Japanese traditional collective of housing called Nagaya.

View of a nagaya, the floor is covered with Tatami mats. The size of the room is a four-and-a-half Tatami mat which is one of the topical Japanese sizes of room.(280cm x 280cm/9feet x 9feet) Photo credit: DryPot

In the tenement houses, not only single men lived together but also young and old couples also cohabitated. Everyone shared the household chores of cleaning, house DIY, and helping each other throughout this residential community.

Its appearance as an Edo era, nagaya still exists and retains the atmosphere of the moment.
A popular tourist destination Tsumago-juku, in nagano Prefecture. Photo credit: 663highland

Inside nagaya, the only partition between each room was a sliding door, because Japanese people at that time did not have a sense of privacy. The sliding doors were made of paper and did not have locks. When people opened the sliding door in their room, they found their neighbor’s room. They shared toilets and kitchens; and there were no baths in the tenement. They eventually had to go to a local public bath house after work. Edo was a very windy city and thus, people were usually covered in dust. Therefore people in the Edo period took a bath every single day.

What could we learn from these findings? Living in a nagaya was not just for solo living residents. It also attracted minimalists who lived with only their own bare necessities.

Some strict minimalists consider living without furniture; eating at fast-food restaurants or picking up food at eat-in convenience stores (in Japan usually these types of stores provided eat-in dining space); taking showers at the gym. Some minimalists also say, that if you live furniture-free, it is much easier to keep your living space cleaner while saving your time & money. Most apartments in Japan are smaller than those in Europe and the United States. But even in a small room, you will not feel so cramped if there are not many things inside. Some people say that living a Zen-like life, surrounded by only things that they consider important, brings peace of mind and improves their quality of life.

In following the minimalist mindset for relationships the Japanese emphasize very high quality human relationships with others, rather than a high number and quantity of relationships. It does not matter whether people are married or single… the importance is having a close-knit circle of family and friends who can truly help each other. Even if they are not numerous, people can live a fulfilling social life. Edo period was less materialistic and focus on simplicity. It is something we can all relate, learn and aspire to if we want a minimalist life.