近期日本政府新设立了“孤独大臣”一职，专门应对孤独导致的自杀率上升等问题。“孤独大臣”并非日本的首创。2018年，时任英国首相特雷莎·梅任命了世界上第一位“孤独大臣”，希望解决国内日益严重的社会孤独问题。In 2020, suicides in Japan rose for the first time in 11 years. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP
Japan has appointed a "Minister of Loneliness" to take try and reduce loneliness and social isolation among its residents as the country deals with rising suicide rates, Japan Times reported.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appointed Tetsushi Sakamoto, who is already a minister in charge of dealing with Japan's declining birthrate and promoting regional revitalization, to oversee government policies to deal with loneliness and isolation, earlier this month. Prime Minister Suga chose Sakamoto as his Minister for economic revitalization when he was elected in September 2020.
日本首相菅义伟本月早些时候任命坂本哲志负责孤独和孤立相关的政府政策。坂本哲志原本就是负责日本少子化对策和地方创生的大臣。菅义伟在2020年9月当选首相时，任命坂本哲志担任经济振兴大臣。Tetsushi Sakamoto is Japan's new loneliness minister. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
"Women are suffering from isolation more (than men are), and the number of suicides is on a rising trend," Suga told Sakamoto on a February 12 news conference announcing the new role, according to the Japan Times. "I hope you will identify problems and promote policy measures comprehensively."
Loneliness has long been an issue in Japan, often discussed alongside "hikikomori," or people who live in extreme social isolation. People have worked to create far-ranging solutions to this issue: Engineers in Japan previously designed a robot to hold someone's hand when they're lonely and one man charges people to "do nothing" except keep them company.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with people more socially isolated than ever, Japan saw a rise in suicides for the first time in 11 years.
In October, more people died from suicide than had died from COVID-19 in Japan in all of 2020. There were 2,153 suicide deaths that month and 1,765 total virus deaths up to the end of October 2020, per the Japanese National Police Agency. (After a surge in new cases starting in December, Japan has now recorded 7,506 total coronavirus deaths as of February 22.) Studies show that loneliness has been linked to a higher risk of health issues like heart disease, dementia, and eating disorders.
Women in Japan, in particular, have contributed to the uptick in suicides. In October, 879 women died by suicide in Japan — a 70% increase compared to the same month in 2019.
日本自杀人数增加，很大程度上是因为自杀的女性增多了。去年10月份，日本有879名女性死于自杀，相比2019年10月增加了70%。A woman crosses the street in Tokyo on January 28, 2021. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP
More and more single women live alone in Japan, but many of them don't have stable employment, Michiko Ueda, a Japanese professor who studies suicide in Japan, told the BBC last week.
"A lot of women are not married anymore," Ueda said. "They have to support their own lives and they don't have permanent jobs. So, when something happens, of course, they are hit very, very hard."
Japan's new loneliness minister said that he plans to hold an emergency forum in late February to hear concerns from people dealing with loneliness and isolation.
"I hope to carry out activities to prevent social loneliness and isolation and to protect ties between people," Sakamoto said at the February 12 news conference.
The United Kingdom was the first country to appoint a loneliness minister in 2018, after a 2017 report found that more than nine million people in the UK said they often or always felt lonely. But the role seems to not be a particularly desirable one, as the UK has gone through three loneliness ministers in three years. Australia has considered creating a similar position.