Honjok: what it is and why it is good to be alone


A new phenomenon comes from South Korea, theHonjok. Hon means “only” and jok “tribe”: indicates one community made up of a single person. This very widespread movement among South Korean youth (in Seoul almost half of the population lives alone) stems from the idea that doing any activity alone (eating, drinking, playing sports, singing, being in the outdoors, traveling) is a liberating act, allow us to get to know each other, develop our potential and be happier.

This trend has become so popular that it has spawned one hon economy: single-portion crockery, washing machines and small appliances, single-proof multipurpose furniture are now easy to find. Food chains have specialized in single portions and are opening more and more restaurants and bars dedicated to those who do not want company, even cinemas are equipping themselves with single-seat aisles. We asked the journalist and writer Silvia Lazzariswho has just published a book about it, HonJok (White Star / Vivida publisher, € 14.90), to tell us about this new world.

The Honjok movement was born in opposition to the South Korean collectivist society, is it an incitement to isolation?

It would be a mistake to imagine honjoks as recluse or asocial. Many of them simply spend Saturday nights at home more often or go on a trip alone without feeling ashamed. Some decide not to marry, and ask only not to be pitied for this choice. This movement is not against being in groups and forming community, but proposes different ways to do it.

In his book he explains how it is a relief for a honjok to avoid the “gaze of others”, what does it mean?266048

Hiding from those looks that seem like intrusions, which they call gaze rape, literally “rape with a look”, is a value for this tribe. In a traditionalist, hierarchical society like Korea’s, being fixated on inappropriate behavior (in this case any self-employed activity) brings shame and communicates judgment. A woman alone in a restaurant, for example, means violating a taboo (and in fact it often still is with us). Doing so makes them feel free.

A fundamental principle of Korean society is nunchi: being aware of others and the surrounding environment. Can you be a honjok by staying connected with others?

I don’t think they are two contradicting concepts. The nunchi is like a sixth sense that allows you to read the room, understand how others feel and think. And adapt accordingly to the surrounding environment to maintain harmony. But honjoks simply believe in a different balance, based on non-compliance with the rules and respect for diversity and inclusion.

For the young people of this movement, slowness is a lifestyle choice that allows us to focus more authentically on our needs, living in a more essential way. How?

According to the honjokWhen you free yourself from social expectations of how you should lead your life, you can focus on what is really necessary to live well. Several blogs talk about the importance of identifying what we really need, which activities, objects and relationships add value to our life. The rest can be let go. There is no common recipe for what is worth letting go of, everyone has to find out for themselves.

Does this frugality also transform into a more sustainable way of life?

Depends. Living alone, for example, can cause enormous food waste if we have no way to buy products in small quantities according to our needs. And if you live alone in a large house, it will have a higher energy impact than sharing it with someone else. It is true that young Koreans often live in tiny studio apartments: this means not having materially space for many objects. A lifestyle characterized by reduced and conscious consumption, certainly more tolerable and sustainable for the health of the planet, is already underway.

Honnol, another activity of this community, means playing alone: ​​does taking a few minutes of introspection to look inside, meditate, work on your center become a way to happiness?

“Know thyself” has been a maxim from the time of the ancient Greeks and philosophy has taught us for millennia that introspection gives a more satisfying life. Today we find it increasingly difficult to carve out moments of contemplative solitude. As soon as we remain in the company of ourselves, we let ourselves be swallowed by the screen of our mobile phone, we cannot bear to be silent. Acquiring a window of free time between oneself is certainly an achievement, but it must be worked on. For example, focusing on small daily activities with awareness allows us to slow down and live in a less hectic and more fulfilling way.

Is traveling alone also an opportunity for enrichment?

Sure. Because it means leaving with an open mind, discovering, absorbing, letting oneself be transformed. It’s like stepping out of your bubble and colliding with diversity. You meet your travel companions on the way.

The various types from Honjok

  • The philosopher266065

    Led to introspection, he prefers to hang out with people with whom he has already built a relationship. He loves spending quality time, like visiting a museum in solitude.

  • The minimalist266067

    Attentive to the fate of the environment and economy, he hates waste, is committed to living frugally and does not like to travel.

  • The independent266066

    Sociable and noisy at times, he likes to be in company but loves to carve out his space: eating and traveling alone are his favorite activities.
  • The extrovert266064
    His motto is: “You only live once”: you only live once. Every experience must be at the top: luxury restaurants, expensive travel, refined hobbies.

or as a couple?

Honjoks are not lonely people, nor do they feel they are. Some of them choose to partner in a monogamous and lasting relationship but independently. Being in two, in fact, also means remembering oneself. You can be a unit made up of individuals who do not want to get lost in the relationship or surrender to a single role. Those who adhere to this lifestyle seek to always be aware of one’s own identity, which is distinct from the other. The time honjoks spend without a partner allows them to focus your needs and understand who they are becoming. Likewise, they are able to have fulfilling experiences with their partner.

(Copyright: @ 2021 White Star SRL, Illustrations by Francesca Leoneschi And Giovanna Ferraris)

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