The Hikikomori are young Japanese who have completely given up the idea of leaving their room. In Japanese culture, being alone has always been a traditional value. It represents a search for wisdom about yourself, nature and social relationships. In some ways it is feudal, but also positive. However, in today’s Japanese society, this long loneliness has become pathological isolation.
After World War II, Japanese society began to develop rapidly economically. This led to ever-increasing demands in terms of school and work. Young people received a strict education. It promoted the iron discipline of acquiring knowledge above all else. And it set aside the communication and psychological problems of the students in the classroom.
Faced with this pressure from their families and society, the Hikikomori have developed a form of isolation that is rare in the Western world. They spend months or years in their rooms without wanting to return to the real world.
The definition of Hikikomori
The first person to use the term Hikikomori was Japanese psychiatrist Tamaki Saito. He did this in his book Hikikomori, Rescue Manual in 2002. In this book, the psychiatrist describes Japanese young people who retreat to their rooms. As victims of an increasingly stifling and competitive education system and labor market. He points out that the main problem is poor communication between parents and children of some Japanese families.
Current Japanese society
Japanese society has developed at a tremendous speed. This led to an economic crisis in which, if you want to grow socially, you have to show enormous competence and discipline. Many couples who have experienced this economic growth have only one child. They then pin all their hopes for a better future and a better life on this child. In addition, they are often inclined to project the unfulfilled desires from their own childhood onto their child.
Families make enormous economic efforts so that their children can then get a good job. They send them to the best schools where they get a lot of homework. They give them a lot of extracurricular activities that leave little or no room for relaxation and relationships with their peers.
Schools in Japan
The schools in Japan have a very demanding and varied educational level and program. They have ongoing exams, homework and the teacher strictly supervises the activities of the students. Japanese youth often do intensive after-school sessions where they spend evenings and weekends at school.
Intensive camps are also sometimes organized at schools where students sleep and eat in class. And where they constantly take exams on various subjects until they pass. Many are not able to sleep until they have passed all the exams.
Relationships with peers – competition, isolation and bullying
Many of these children and adolescents begin to look at their peers with suspicion and distrust. Many are bullied because of bad grades or other parts of their personal lives. There is no counselor or social worker who pays attention to the mental needs of students, which is why the problem persists.
These young people do not see work as a way to use their skills and achieve personal independence. They see it as hostile territory that they fear because they may not be able to live up to expectations.
Many see themselves as alone, stressed and isolated. Pressured by their family and with a future job that is too difficult for their level. If we add in the incredible technological expansion in the country, this is a veritable explosive cocktail. As a result, many feel the need to isolate themselves and create ‘a virtual life’. It’s a way of saying enough to society and their families.
What happens to the Hikikomori
The parents of the Hikikomori youth see their children as a disgrace. As something they should keep hidden from their neighbors and relatives. For fear of scandal and of being stigmatized.
If a young person locks himself in his room for weeks and the parents don’t have a clear answer, the problem is usually chronic. Young people no longer go to school and lock themselves in their isolation. They eat, sleep and use virtual entertainment within those four walls.
The world seems better through a computer. Or by watching movies, reading, playing video games, listening to music and sleeping. They take bad care of themselves and if they cut their hair, for example, they do it themselves. This is how years go by sometimes. It has become an epidemic in Japan because there are about two million Hikikomori in the country.
How this problem can be solved
The Japanese authorities have already drawn up an intervention plan. This is a huge generational loss. They are investigating ways to help these young people. Many psychologists point out that the best intervention would be a systemic family. They must ensure that the family communicates gradually with the patient in order to be able to bring him out of his isolation.
Integration into society must be gradual. In many cases, recovered Hikikomori are those who guide and support other young people to leave their voluntary incarceration. The problem is not social phobia, agoraphobia or extreme shyness. It’s something else.
The solution must be preventive. Japanese society must take this issue seriously in order to lower the desired level and social isolation promoted by schools.