In his book A Philosophy of Loneliness author Lars Svendsen describes two different types of "being alone".

Loneliness is used to name the feeling that you are alone, and you feel desperate about this (i.e. you crave some kind of connection with others, and cannot get it, either because you are actually alone, or because you cannot somehow reach out to others).

Solitude is instead the "positive" side of the same condition: you are alone because you like being alone (it could just be time you use to pursuit a hobby, for example, the classical "me time") but you are content if not downright happy being alone.

Question: is it possible to express these two different types of "being alone" (one negative, one positive) in Japanese?

(If at all possible I'd prefer to use Kanji for this: most of my questions here are for possible use of the words in my Shodo practice, but I am also just curious about how this can be expressed in the language, no matter how it is written).

  • 2
    孤独{こどく} means loneliness. 孤高{ここう} has some positive connotations, but sounds a little bit formal. We just call マニア(mania) or おたく when he or she are pursuing a hobby. マニア does not have either positive or negative sound, while おたく has negative sound. – ErikaO May 22 '17 at 7:03
  • @ErikaO - would you mind transforming your comment into an Answer? While I appreciate the other two contributions I believe your is the most succinct and specific, and I would like to accept it as my answer. – p.marino May 26 '17 at 9:59
up vote 4 down vote accepted

孤高{ここう} seems the best for solitude, but it sounds a little bit stoical, and formal as ErikaO says in the comment.
How about 悠々{ゆうゆう}自適{じてき} / 悠悠{ゆうゆう}自適{じてき}?
I know it is not an exact translation for solitude, but it could possibly be the second best. It has not enough nuance of being alone explicitly than 孤高{ここう}, but it sounds more gentle than 孤高.

悠々自適 means living by oneself free from worldly cares. It could be used in a phrase like:
悠々自適の生活{せいかつ}を送{おく}る or 悠々自適に暮{く}らす to lead a life by oneself free from worldly cares.


There is an article on your topic. The writer says there is not an exact Japanese term equivalent to solitude except 孤高 which is not necessarily exact. In this article he shows us a very interesting fact that the combination of "enjoy solitude" hit far more than that of "enjoy loneliness" when he searched them on the Internet. I think this search result shows us the essential difference between them.

Don't you think to enjoy solitude goes hand in hand with 悠々{ゆうゆう}自適{じてき} living by oneself free from worldly cares?

  • I have basically no knowledge of Japanese so I might be very wrong on this, but looking for example on Tangorin.com, I get "living a life of leisure with dignity;  living quietly and comfortably free from worldly cares;  otium cum dignitate" - I see that it includes "自" but I don't get any element that really magnifies the "being alone" in itself. I.e. - what prevents one from 悠悠自適 together with their spouse? – p.marino May 24 '17 at 11:54
  • 1
    @p.marino: I think it's a good question. We Japanese don't analyze 悠悠自適{ゆうゆうじてき}by separating each kanjis, but we interpret it as a whole just like a set phrase. I like the composed sound of yuh-yuh-jiteki and the meaning. I know that it is not necessarily "being alone", but the person who lives 悠悠自適に would not care whether he/she is alone or not. If the person has their spouse, the person lives happily with the spouse. – mackygoo May 24 '17 at 12:33

A few thoughts come to mind. Alan Sillitoe's short story "The Loneliness of the Long-distance Runner" (which is about the sense of freedom and peace a young delinquent has when he is allowed out of the reformatory to go cross-country running, so I'd say it was a positive emotion) is called 「[長距離]{ちょうきょり}[走者]{そうしゃ}の[孤独]{こどく}」 in Japanese. In Wordsworth's poem "The Daffodils", the phrase "the bliss of solitude" (clearly positive) is translated both as [孤独]{こどく}の[至福]{しふく} and 一人きりの至福. The phrase 一人ぼっちの夜 in Sakamoto Kyu's song 「上を向いて歩こう(涙がこぼれないように)」 is clearly negative. "Carson McCullers's "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter", about the ultimate impossibility of complete understanding between human beings, is 「愛すれど心さびしく」. I think さびしい/さびしさ is always negative.

  • +1 for making me listen again to the loneliness of the long distance runner by Iron Maiden bringing back the good old years. :) – Tommy May 23 '17 at 0:22
  • Glad to have revived happy memories, Tommy. – Graham Healey May 24 '17 at 5:40

Your Answer

 
discard

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.