The insular world of hikikomori

Japan's taboo: Hikikomori modern-day hermits | Reporters • FRANCE 24 English

The teenage stereotype of locking yourself in your room was something I experienced growing up. It was true for me (minus the lock) but not to the extremes exhibited by half a million in Japan. These people are known as the hikikomori (“pulling inward, being confined”).

The Japanese government has been conducting a major study to understand the hikikomori and what causes their behaviour. FRANCE 24’s report is thought-provoking and tragic in many ways. But there is some light at the end of the tunnel for some in the video report.

Here are some basic notes about the hikikomori:

  • In severe cases, they don’t leave their bedrooms for months or years
  • Friendships are rare due to consistent isolation and inabilities to maintain emotional connections
  • Social withdrawal is often gradual rather than instant
  • The average age of the hikikomori is around 30*
  • The phenomenon is mainly found in Japan, but examples have been discovered in the United States, Spain, Italy, South Korea, and France

One example in the report sees a son living as a hikikomori with his mother. Codependence is seen as an enabling behaviour, as discussed in The Anatomy of Dependence, a book by the late Japanese psychoanalyst Takeo Doi. In it, he talked of a concept known as amae, a “uniquely Japanese need to be in good favour with, and be able to depend on, the people around oneself”. He also claimed that the “ideal relationship was that of the parent-child, and all other relationships should strive for this degree of closeness”.

Watch the report below.

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