As you know, Japanese people are good at many things but for this blog, we will mainly be talking about people in Japan who are very good at distancing themselves from other people.
Losing contact with the world
Looking at the title, you can have a bit of an idea what the word “Hikikomori” means. First, let’s take a look at its kanji. Hikikomori (ひきこもり or 引きこもり) contains the kanji 引 (“hi”). If you have been to Japan, you have probably seen this kanji in multiple places–anywhere with a door. The kanji actually means to “pull” or the action of “exerting force that causes a movement towards oneself”. From this kanjis meaning, you can have an idea on what Hikikomori actually means. Hikikomori are people who experience extreme social withdrawal and yearn for extreme isolation and confinement. Usually, they are financially and physically taken cared for by their parents or close living relatives. They usually rely on their parents or close living relatives for food, shelter, and anything financially related. As they do not work or study, they usually take up some sort of hobby like watching tv, playing video games, or surfing the internet.
In 2003, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare established the following criteria for hikikomori: 1) a lifestyle centered at home; 2) no interest or willingness to attend school or work, and 3) symptom duration of at least six months. These people usually end up staying in their houses or rooms (if in a family home) without going out or seeing anyone for a long period of time. In a 2019 consensus, the government estimated that there are at least 1.5 million people who identify as hikikomori, a brief underestimation as mentioned by Saitō Tamaki, a leading expert on this matter, as he suggests that the figure is larger and may eventually rise to above 10 million soon. The causes of turning into a hikikomori are very unclear and can even possibly come from being bullied or being a social outcast. Don’t be fooled though, hikikomori may be a Japanese word but it doesn’t mean that hikikomoris can only be found in Japan as this phenomenon can be found in other areas of the world.
How it affects Japan
Currently, Japan still has a notion of gathering people with disabilities under a roof, not helping normalize giving help to the mentally ill and actually making the mentally diabled social pariahs when seen in public.Technically speaking, hikikomori do not directly affect society as all responsibility usually fall on their parents or family members. This usually becomes a problem for society when the parents or relatives of the hikikomori pass away. The City halls employees usually do welfare checks on known hikikomori with no relatives but are usually pushed away by hikikomori.
The most recent occurrence of a situation where a hikikomori was involved was a stabbing done by a hikikomori in 2019. 2 people were killed and 18 people, mostly school children, were injured in Kawasaki, Japan. This has caused a huge uproar as this incident might have caused an even worse prejudice against hikikomori, possibly driving people who suffer with it to isolate themselves even more, burying themselves in deeper isolation.
There is no actual “cure” to being a hikikomori as it is considered more of a state of mind than an actual mental illness. The best way to actually help a hikikomori is to pull it from the root–prevention rather than cure. Becoming a hikikomori usually starts bit by bit. They gradually stop coming to school or work then slowly cut off all ties with the outside world, usually relying on their parents to provide them with food, making their transition into becoming a hikikomori fully realized. As we stated a while ago, it happens gradually and can be easily distinguished by anti-social and reclusive behavior. Rather than becoming an enabler and providing for a hikikomori to be, parents must be open to the possibility of introducing their child to therapy and encouraging them to mingle with people outside of their direct family.
Of course, treatment can also be an option as there have been cases of people recovering and once again joining society as a fully functioning social creature. It involves the help of family, volunteers, mental aid, classes, and gradual integration into society. For hikikomori who are not able to integrate back into society, they usually end up with very harrowing and lonely deaths. Unfortunately, hikikomori that are left to their own devices when their carer has passed away, usually ends up passing away as well as the idea of going out to get food is not a good enough reason to leave the safety of their own room or house. Records of multiple hikikomori dying and being found days, weeks, or even months after their deaths are quite common. Only being found because of the stench that their bodies give off because of decay. They have a very sad and lonely life and need help. Everyone wants to be accepted and although hikikomori have the tendency to push people away, they still deserve help as much as everyone in society does. If you know someone showing symptoms of social reclusion or being a hikikomori, try to get them help as early as you can.