Universities have started to arrange seats for solitary use as an increasing number of students do not want to share tables with other people and feel self-conscious about others' gaze when they eat. It seems such seats are here to stay. On the other hand, some teachers say that it is necessary to devise ways of promoting communications between students instead of arranging seats this way.
A male student eats ramen noodles by himself, while a female student stares at her smartphone display while nibbling an onigiri rice ball.
In Gakushuin University's cafeteria in Toshima Ward, Tokyo, at lunch time students occupy seats one after another at tables divided in the centre with acrylic plates about 40 centimeters high. A freshman in the literature department said that he felt relaxed at this seat as he could avoid other people's gaze.
The university set up 100 seats for solitary use out of about 470 seats when renovating the cafeteria in April.
As more and more students are using the cafeteria alone, the university set up counter seats facing windows and triangle-shaped table seats whose design enables a sitting person to avoid the eyes of others at the same table, in addition to the 40 seats at tables with acrylic partitions. Haruhito Seya, 57, a head of the university's career centre who was engaged in the renovation, expressed mixed feelings, saying, "Though we have to meet students' requests, at the same time I want them to enjoy meals in lively groups."
Divided seats for students' individual use are believed to have first appeared at Kyoto University's cafeteria in 2012. Students came to call the seats
"Bocchi seki" (solo seat). "Bocchi," a young people's slang expression, means an isolated situation without friends and keeping a certain distance from groups.
At Kobe University's co-op cafeteria, tables seating six have been divided in the centre with partitions since last year. About 90 seats were set up at first. They were well received, and in April, 30 more seats were added. Now such seats account for 10 per cent of all the seats at the cafeteria.
Conventional tables used to have empty seats even at the busiest times as students avoided sharing tables with others.
An official of the university's co-op said, "Creating seats for solitary use has led to students' effective use of seats at the cafeteria." A male student in the intercultural studies department, 21, said: "The seat is convenient for a quick meal. I feel uneasy about taking a seat at a table occupied by a group or a stranger."
Daito Bunka University also introduced 72 table seats with partitions at its cafeteria, which has about 370 seats, in Higashi-Matsuyama, Saitama Prefecture. Fukui University set up 64 seats for solitary use last year as well.
According to a federation of university cooperative associations, an increasing number of universities set seats for solitary use when renovating cafeterias, but some teachers oppose the introduction of such seats, saying, "Conversation and communication are the basis of school life."
Psychotherapy specialist Teruko Ikuno, an honorary professor of Kobe College, said: "While today's young people are not good at interpersonal relationships, they don't like to be regarded as isolated. In extreme cases, some people eat in restrooms. It is necessary to devise a place where students can naturally communicate with each other."