The Relationless Japanese Society and the Practices of Belonging during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Keywords:Japanese society, COVID-19, social isolation, social identity, practices of belonging, muen shakai, relationless society, sociocultural factors
The aging of the population, lonely deaths (kadokushi), single-member households, and weak local bonds have been given as signs that Japan is now a “relationless society”, or muen shakai. The term muen shakai has been used by the media to describe a society in which social isolation is intensified because of the lack of connection between immediate family members, more distant relatives, and local community. On the other hand, some sociological and religious studies on Japanese society have shown that it is precisely this social isolation that awakens the need for networking, and even excessive networking. This article studies what types of social relations became highlighted under the new conditions of recommended social isolation due to COVID-19. The Japanese government did not explicitly forbid and sanction socializing, leaving the responsibility and duty for common health to individuals as well as members of groups. It seems that the way in which Japanese society has fought COVID-19 largely depends on existing interpersonal ties and belonging to certain groups and communities. I look at sociocultural factors in social relations in Japan, to examine whether the ties and belonging to groups and communities, which has been more to the fore during COVID-19, is something new in the society or existed preceding the pandemic.
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