The internet is full of people. But like the big city, it can be a lonely place...
I stand by my belief that getting an email friend or pen friend to practice your Japanese with is the easiest way to learn the language. However, it does have its downsides... I'm not sure whether its something about how I pick email friends or what, but it seems that everyone online is exceptionally lonely for some reason or another. Let me take a moment to exemplify with a list of some of my recent friends.
1) An enthusiastic Nagoyan (can you say that? I hope so, it sounds like something from a sci-fi!), with a significant other that they feel is weighing them down, but which they feel too responsible for to dump (in this case, possibly a good thing until the said significant other sees a psychiatrist, but that goes beyond our scope here).
2) A charming Toykonian hikikomori (from what I can tell) with apparently no friends, a possible inferiority complex, and no clear direction (as if you need a clear idea of what you want to do at university age).
3) A highly imaginative Yokohaman in a loveless marriage who is looking for "something to stir their heart"
4) I forget where this one was from, but having given them my LINE ID, they proceeded to send a shedload of pictures, some of which she was just in her bra... She can count herself lucky I'm not a stalker... In any case, not exactly the picture of sanity there.
Excepting #4, they're all definitely very nice people, and I've met plenty of normal people online. However, this accounts for about a fifth of my recent email friends, and it paints a rather depressing picture of these online penfriend sites.
It gets worse though: I read a post on Japan-guide.com's forum today of a guy whose email friend had supposedly killed themselves after the said guy stopped contacting them. Reading into it, it actually seems a bit suspect... But whether it is true or not, the poor guy (because it wasn't really any fault of his) felt terrible about this, and perhaps they'll bear that pain in some way or other for the rest of their lives.
Luckily I've only met lonely people so far, not suicidal ones, and frankly the lonely ones tend to reply more often. I'm happy enough, I guess, in letting them unload their worries seeing as we're both benefiting from it (and in any case, some of my email friends have helped me talk through some problems of my own). But, it is sobering, nonetheless.