In a graying Japan, consumers choose solitude

The number of businesses catering to the solo customer is growing, including separate booths for eating and separate rooms for karaoke. According to experts, this is a sign of an aging country and a graying society.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In Japan, businesses catering to solo customers who value privacy and minimal human interaction are growing, the Kyodo news agency reports. For experts, it is a sign of an aging country.

In Fukuoka (Kyushu), the Ichiran Ramen chain set up dining booths separated by wooden panels, obstructing the view of potential neighbours on either side.

When entering the shop customers buy tickets from a vending machine, which allows them to select the type of ramen they wish to order and eat at any vacant booth.

Instead of being escorted to a table by a waiter, customers take their booths alone where they press a call button and present their tickets to a server through a shutter in front of them that remains lowered except when orders are placed and food is served.

The solo customer market is not just about food, but includes entertainment. Singing alone has become fashionable among young Japanese women since the mid-2000s, and has now taken roots.

Koshidaka Holdings Co., known for its Karaoke Manekineko shops, has been providing ‘1 kara’ solo singing in urban areas such as Tokyo and Osaka since 2011.

Customers are given headphones and microphones that allow them to sing in a soundproof room.

"We have a high rate of repeat users, and sales continue to grow a steady clip," said a company spokesperson.

Service industry insiders believe the trend reflects an effort to address diversifying consumer tastes amid the country's graying society, declining birthrates and protracted deflation.

Tomoki Inoue, associate analyst at think tank NLI Research Institute familiar with consumer behavior, said the trend toward catering to individual customers is a sign of changing demographics.

"Because people are marrying late and other factors, there has been an increase in single people even among the middle aged and elderly, and this market is growing," said Inoue.

According to Inoue, given the competitiveness in the food service industry, it is likely that "this tread of welcoming the lone customer will continue.”

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