The Japanese government has appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto as Minister of Loneliness, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a press conference on Friday.
Sakamoto, 70, has previously served in a number of positions in government. Over the past few years, he has been in charge of the country’s regional revitalisation. According to Kato, the new Minister for Loneliness will be in charge of both demographic issues and regional developments.
As Japan has become an ageing society with low birth and fertility rates, the newly created role in government is vital for meeting demographic challenges, Kato told reporters. The latest measure has also been adopted in a bid to deal with the recent spike in suicides in Japan, especially among women and teenagers, as the rate has risen for the first time in 11 years.
In Japan there is a special term, kodokushi (孤独死, 'isolation death' in English), which refers to the phenomenon of the elderly suffering "unaccompanied deaths". People dying alone or commiting suicide became a matter of grave concern at the end of the 20th century, as more and more older adults found themselves abandoned by children and leading lives isolated from society in small households. There have been numerous reports about elderly Japanese people being found by neighbours, days - or even months - after they had died.
There has also been a major debate on what has caused the problem. Although many argued that the issue was rooted in the demise of traditional values, there was also a more scientific approach, with people explaining that socioeconomic changes could also have a negative effect.
According to the recent report, the coronavirus pandemic has also caused suicide rates to rise.