What is Hikikomori?

Some languages are better equipped to explain the human condition than English. 

The Japanese term “Hikikomori,” refers to someone engaging in acute social withdrawal. It has garnered international attention as hundreds of thousands of Japanese people are refusing to engage with society. A BBC Future article defines this phenomena as “recluses who withdraw from all social contact and often don’t leave their houses for years at a time.” Studies show that at least 500,000 people in Japan are considered to be Hikikomori, modern studies suggest the figure is closer to one million.  

The Japanese Times explains “a hikikomori is defined by the (Japanese) Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry as someone who has remained isolated at home for at least six consecutive months without going to school or work, and rarely interacts with people from outside their own immediate family.” The term was coined by Japanese psychiatrist Professor Tamaki Saito in 1998.

Scholarly journals and articles all point to the economic downturn that Japan faced in the 1990’s as the big-bang of Hikikomori. The embarrassment of not being able to provide, along with a general sense of hopelessness beat down a generation. Hikikomori bears resemblance to “withdrawal neurosis” which was coined in the 70’s and “school refusal syndrome” which gained notoriety in the 80’s; but Hikikomori has been studied in much greater detail than those predecessors. 

According to an article on The Conversation, “Hikikomori is currently viewed as a sociocultural mental health phenomenon, rather than a distinct mental illness.” Yet, this sociocultural mental health phenomenon has seemingly appeared in France, Brazil, and Spain. Studies show that there is no wholly biological reason for a human-being to turn their back on the entire outside world.

Soto-komori is a less clinical term for people who are not fully Hikikomori. “Soto-komori, can manage some activities outside, they will rarely interact with people,” says The Conversation.

It may seem difficult to understand a social phenomena like this, but I understand people going through Hikikomori. 

Japan, like America, is a capitalist society. The constant pressures of a capitalist system to produce or die combined with the accessibility of technology to learn about how terrible the world is should be enough to make any person want to give up on society. Hikikomori is an obvious outcome for a dejected and educated public. 

Personally, I have felt these same feelings. I’ve stayed in bed rather than going to my desk job. I feel the societal pressure to produce and have felt great embarrassment about my career. I know what it feels like to hate the world I’m living in and want to check out entirely. 

Hikikomori is another product of capitalism. 

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, America will surely see shut-ins similar to Japan. How far away from Hikikomori are incels? How many Americans are living like this today? Other countries have taken note of this problem, but why hasn’t America? I can personally name people in my life who are soto-komori. 

To me, the purpose of life is rebelling against that sad dejected feeling of misery. It may feel easier to waste away in your bed or to escape into your phone or a video game; but ultimately all you’re doing is wasting away. 

Call a friend, do your laundry, and focus on a way out of the sadness. The years of American Hikikomori are on the horizon, brace yourself.

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