Jun 5, 2024

Foreign ministry survey finds 45% of Japanese expats feeling lonely

Foreign ministry survey finds 45% of Japanese expats feeling lonely photo

Around 45 percent of Japanese nationals living overseas feel lonely, according to the results of a survey by Japan’s foreign ministry. 

It is the first time that the ministry has carried out a survey looking into feelings of loneliness among the around 1.3 million Japanese living abroad (at the time of the survey period from last October through December).  

Asked to what extent they feel lonely, 6.9 percent of the survey’s over 55,000 respondents answered “often or always,” followed by “sometimes” (12.7 percent), and “occasionally” (25.3 percent). To this extent, 44.9 percent of the respondents experienced at least occasional feelings of loneliness. 53.2 percent of respondents said that they “rarely” or “never” feel lonely. 

By region, the loneliest Japanese nationals were found in Western Europe. 48 percent of respondents living in the region said they feet lonely, broken down as - often or always (8.3 percent), sometimes (13.1 percent), occasionally (26.6 percent). South America was next where 46.4 percent of Japanese expats feel lonely, followed by North America at 45.3 percent.

On the other hand Africa appears to be the happiest place for Japanese nationals living overseas. 59.4 percent of respondents based in the region said they rarely or never feel lonely. The Middle East was next at 56.4 percent, followed by Asia at 55.5 percent. 

By age group, Japanese expats in their 20s were found to be the loneliest. 11.0 percent of respondents in that age group said they often or always feel lonely. Only 2.7 percent of respondents in their 70s gave the same answer. 

How many people who are or who have experienced life overseas might have jumped at the chance to dive on the first plane back home soon after arrival in a foreign land? (I’ll raise my own hand here.)  

Many people stick it out though, under the assumption that things will get better. That they’ll get used to the way of life and may even start enjoying it. (Again, this has been my own experience of life in Japan and, on the surface at least, that of other expats around me. Those that weren’t enjoying it have already left.) 

Time plus resolve does not always equate to happiness, however. And the results of the foreign ministry survey appear to reflect this. Of the survey respondents who said that they often or always feel lonely, 44.5 percent said that they had been feeling this way for five years or more. This was by some distance the largest response. Three to five years was next at 13.1 percent. 

According to the survey results, communication with family and friends back home could be a key factor in keeping feelings of loneliness at bay. At 22.9 percent, the largest percentage of respondents who often or always feel lonely said they had no communication with family or friends back home. The lowest percentage, 5.4 percent, said they communicated with family or friends back home four or five times a week, maybe more.

Asked what kind of events or factors might be the cause of their feelings of loneliness, Japan’s expats answered that it was linguistic issues (31.6 percent), cultural differences (27.9 percent) and the relocation itself (24.9 percent) that were the most common causes of their loneliness. Living alone was also cited as a common cause, by 24.7 percent of respondents. 

Looking closer at language proficiency, among those respondents who said they were fluent in the local language, 39.1 percent said they experience feelings of loneliness. Among those who said they could only communicate with simple words, the rate of loneliness was higher at 47.9 percent.  

The survey also asked respondents about their purpose for leaving the house in the last week. Between respondents who feel at least occasionally lonely and those who rarely if ever feel lonely there was almost no discrepancy when it came to leaving the house to carry out daily errands.  

Some discrepancy was revealed, however, when it came to leaving the house to pursue hobbies or for entertainment or exercise. 55.7 percent of respondents who rarely if ever feel lonely said they have been out in the last week for the purpose of hobbies, entertainment or exercise. On the other hand, 49.0 percent of respondents who feel at least occasionally lonely had left the house for the same reason. A small discrepancy but the largest found between the two groups.  

The ministry published a summary of the survey results highlighting the most common characteristics of respondents who said they often or always experience feelings of loneliness, accounting for 6.9 percent of respondents. Among these, 24.1 percent said their financial circumstances were very tough. 50.2 percent said they were not in good mental and / or physical health.

The foreign ministry said that it has been working with non-profit organizations to provide support for Japanese nationals living overseas to help address issues related to loneliness and isolation, primarily at diplomatic missions.

In carrying out the survey, the ministry said that it drew on the experiences and know-how of the Cabinet Secretariat which carries out a similar survey on feelings of loneliness and isolation among Japanese at home. 

In the most recent of the Cabinet Secretariat surveys (results published in March) 39.3 percent of the over 11,000 respondents (16 years and older) said they experienced feelings of loneliness. Among these, 4.8 percent said they “often or always” feel lonely, followed by “sometimes” (14.8 percent), and “occasionally” (19.7 percent).   

Among these, family bereavement (23.3 percent), living alone (19.5 percent), and serious physical or mental issues (15.5 percent) were cited as the most common causes of respondents' loneliness.

Do you see any similarities between how Japanese nationals living overseas experience feelings of loneliness and your own experiences here in Japan?

The conversation has already started:

Blog post: Loneliness and expat life

On the Q&A: Let's talk about mental health



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