Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appointed a ‘Minister of Loneliness’ as part of the government’s efforts to tackle the issue of loneliness and isolation in the country, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regional revitalisation minister Tetsushi Sakamoto was appointed to the position. At a meeting on February 12, Suga told Sakamoto that women are suffering from isolation more than men are, according to The Japanese Times.
“I hope you will identify problems and promote policy measures comprehensively,” said the Prime Minister.
Sakamoto addressed a news conference later on the same day and said: “I hope to carry out activities to prevent social loneliness and isolation and to protect ties between people.”
Sakamoto is also tasked with battling the country’s falling birthrate and boosting regional economies as part of his new portfolio, according to NDTV.
Isolation in Japan is connected to a range of social issues including suicide, poverty and hikkomori (social recluses). On Friday, February 19, the Cabinet Office established a task force to address the problem of loneliness across several ministries and launched an investigation into its impact.
According to statistics released by the Japanese National Police Agency, 20 919 people died by suicide in 2020, an increase of 750 when compared to the previous year – it is the first time the figure has increased in 11 years. The increase is attributed to a marked increase in the suicide rate among women and young people, according to The Japanese Times.
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