There’s a restaurant in my neighborhood that I ate dinner at shortly after I moved to Yokohama. Since in those days I worked night shift, I walked through the door around 9:30 p.m., asked for a table for one, and ordered my food.
It turned out to be one of the blandest, least satisfying meals I’ve ever had, but that restaurant is still in business, more than a decade later, so the food can’t be that bad. In hindsight, I think the fact that it was about the 20th meal in a row I’d eaten alone was affecting my sense of taste. Spending too much time by yourself can mess with your head, and the social aspect of eating with a friend can really add a lot to your enjoyment of the meal, which is why a researcher in Japan says that if you’re going to be eating by yourself, you should put a mirror on the table.
The idea comes from Ryuzaburo Tanaka, a psychology researcher affiliated with Nagoya University. As families get smaller and couples delay marriage, more and more people are dining alone, and Tanaka points to such a trend even happening among the elderly as fewer seniors live with their children during old age than in the past.
So if you don’t have anyone to break bread with (and there’s no matchmaking Korean restaurant nearby) Tanaka recommends setting up a mirror so you can see your reflection as you eat. “This simulates the atmosphere of sharing a meal with someone, and I believe it helps to enhance the deliciousness of the food being eaten,” he asserts.
Japanese Internet commenters offered the following reactions and suggested improvements:
“I think it might actually make me feel lonelier. Well, it’s worth a try, so I’ll give it a shot.”
“You’d start to feel self-conscious about your table manners.”
“I’d be like, ‘So, you’re single again, huh?’”
“This only works if you’re a narcissist, right? It’d be better with a poster.”
“Does it have to be your own reflection? What about those otaku who buy cakes at Christmas and put them in front of monitors with pictures of their favorite anime girls?”
“I think I’ll try it while looking at that ‘Sad Keanu’ photo.”
Still it seems like using a mirror would help to create a more lifelike and organic illusion than a still photo (and eating with prerecorded video is its own brand of awkward). The point about this working best if you’re on the narcissistic side seems valid, though, and at the very least you’ll want to clean yourself up a bit, and maybe put a little effort into preparing the meal itself, before you try Takada’s technique. Odds are the whole thing is counterproductive if the guy staring back at you from the mirror has an unshaved depression beard, is wearing a sweat-stained tank top, and is also eating a stack of ham slices straight out of the package.