In Japan, hikikomori (Japanese: ひきこもり or 引き籠り,
lit. "pulling inward, being confined", i.e., "acute social
withdrawal") are reclusive adolescents or adults who withdraw from
social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and
Hikikomori refers to both the phenomenon in general and
the recluses themselves.
Hikikomori have been described as loners or
"modern-day hermits". Estimates reveal that nearly half a million
Japanese youth have become social recluses.
2 Common traits
4 Hypotheses on cause
4.1 Psychiatric disorders
4.2 Social and cultural influence
4.2.1 Japanese education system
4.3 Japanese financial crisis
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare
Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare defines
hikikomori as a condition in which the affected individuals isolate
themselves from society in their homes for a period exceeding six
months. The psychiatrist
Tamaki Saitō defines hikikomori as "a
state that has become a problem by the late twenties, that involves
cooping oneself up in one's own home and not participating in society
for six months or longer, but that does not seem to have another
psychological problem as its principal source".
More recently, researchers have developed more specific criteria to
more accurately identify hikikomori. During a diagnostic interview,
trained clinicians evaluate for:
spending most of the day and nearly every day confined to home,
marked and persistent avoidance of social situations,
social withdrawal symptoms causing significant functional impairment,
duration of at least six months, and
no apparent physical pathology to account for the social withdrawal
The psychiatrist Alan Teo first characterized hikikomori in
modern-day hermits, while the literary and communication scholar
Flavio Rizzo similarly described hikikomori as "post-modern hermits"
whose solitude stems from ancestral desires for withdrawal.
While the degree of the phenomenon varies on an individual basis, in
the most extreme cases, some people remain in isolation for years or
even decades. Often hikikomori start out as school refusers, or
futōkō (不登校) in Japanese (an older term is tōkōkyohi
While many people feel the pressures of the outside world, hikikomori
react by complete social withdrawal. In some cases, they isolate
themselves in their living quarters for prolonged periods, sometimes
for years. They usually have few or no friends. In interviews with
current or recovering hikikomori, media reports and documentaries have
captured the strong levels of psychological distress and angst felt by
While hikikomori favour indoor activities, some venture outdoors
occasionally. The withdrawal from society usually starts gradually.
Affected people may appear unhappy, lose their friends, become
insecure and shy, and talk less.
According to government figures released in 2010, there are 700,000
individuals living as hikikomori with an average age of 31. Still,
the numbers vary widely among experts. These include the hikikomori
who are now in their 40s and have spent 20 years in isolation. This
group is generally referred to as the "first-generation hikikomori.”
There is concern about their reintegration into society in what is
known as "the 2030 Problem,” when they are in their 60s and their
parents begin to die. Additionally, the government estimates that
1.55 million people are on the verge of becoming hikikomori.
Tamaki Saitō, who first coined the phrase, originally estimated that
there may be over one million hikikomori in Japan, although this was
not based on national survey data. Nonetheless, considering that
hikikomori adolescents are hidden away and their parents are often
reluctant to talk about the problem, it is extremely difficult to
gauge the number accurately.
While hikikomori is mostly a Japanese phenomenon, cases have been
found in the United States, Morocco, Oman, Spain, Italy, South Korea,
and France. Recent research using the same standardized
definition of hikikomori has found evidence of it existing in other
countries as wide-ranging as the
United States and India.
Hypotheses on cause
Hikikomori is similar to the social withdrawal exhibited by some
people with autism spectrum disorders, a group of disorders that
include Asperger syndrome, PDD-NOS and "classic" autism. This has led
some psychiatrists to suggest that hikikomori may be affected by
autism spectrum disorders and other disorders that affect social
integration, but that their disorders are altered from their typical
Western presentation because of the social and cultural pressures
unique to Japan. Suwa & Hara (2007) discovered that 5 of 27
cases of hikikomori had a high-functioning pervasive developmental
disorder (HPDD), and 12 more had other disorders or mental diseases (6
cases of personality disorders, 3 cases of obsessive-compulsive
disorder, 2 cases of depression, 1 case of slight mental retardation).
The researchers used a vignette to illustrate the difference between
primary hikikomori (without any obvious mental disorder) and
hikikomori with HPDD or other disorder; furthermore, 10 out of 27 had
primary hikikomori. Alan Teo and colleagues conducted detailed
diagnostic evaluations of 22 individuals with hikikomori and found
that while the majority of cases fulfilled criteria for multiple
psychiatric conditions, about 1 in 5 cases were primary
According to Michael Zielenziger's book, Shutting Out the Sun: How
Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation, the syndrome is more closely
related to posttraumatic stress disorder. The author claimed that the
hikikomori interviewed for the book had discovered independent
thinking and a sense of self that the current Japanese environment
could not accommodate.
The syndrome also closely parallels the terms avoidant personality
disorder, schizoid personality disorder, or social anxiety disorder
(also known as "social phobia").
Social and cultural influence
Sometimes referred to as a social problem in Japanese discourse,
hikikomori has a number of possible contributing factors. Alan Teo has
summarized a number of potential cultural features that may contribute
to its predominance in Japan. These include tendencies toward
conformity and collectivism, overprotective parenting, and
particularities of the educational and economic systems.
Acute social withdrawal in
Japan appears to affect both genders
equally. However, because of differing social expectations for
maturing boys and girls, the most widely reported cases of hikikomori
are from middle- and upper-middle-class families; sons, typically
their eldest, refuse to leave the home, often after experiencing one
or more traumatic episodes of social or academic failure.
In The Anatomy of Dependence,
Takeo Doi identifies the symptoms of
hikikomori, and explains its prevalence as originating in the Japanese
psychological construct of amae (in Freudian terms, "passive object
love", typically of the kind between mother and infant). Other
Japanese commentators such as academic
Shinji Miyadai and novelist
Ryū Murakami, have also offered analysis of the hikikomori
phenomenon, and find distinct causal relationships with the modern
Japanese social conditions of anomie, amae and atrophying paternal
influence in nuclear family child pedagogy. Young adults may feel
overwhelmed by modern Japanese society, or be unable to fulfill their
expected social roles as they have not yet formulated a sense of
personal honne and tatemae – one's "true self" and one's "public
façade" – necessary to cope with the paradoxes of adulthood.
The dominant nexus of hikikomori centres on the transformation from
youth to the responsibilities and expectations of adult life.
Indications are that advanced industrialized societies such as modern
Japan fail to provide sufficient meaningful transformation rituals for
promoting certain susceptible types of youth into mature roles. As do
Japan exerts a great deal of pressure on adolescents
to be successful and perpetuate the existing social status quo. A
traditionally strong emphasis on complex social conduct, rigid
hierarchies and the resulting, potentially intimidating multitude of
social expectations, responsibilities and duties in Japanese society
contribute to this pressure on young adults. Historically,
Confucian teachings de-emphasizing the individual and favouring a
conformist stance to ensure social harmony in a rigidly hierarchized
society have shaped much of East Asia, possibly explaining the
emergence of the hikikomori phenomenon in other East Asian countries.
In general, the prevalence of hikikomori tendencies in
Japan may be
encouraged and facilitated by three primary factors:
Middle class affluence in a post-industrial society such as Japan
allows parents to support and feed an adult child in the home
indefinitely. Lower-income families do not have hikikomori children
because a socially withdrawing youth is forced to work outside the
The inability of Japanese parents to recognize and act upon the
youth's slide into isolation; soft parenting; or codependence between
mother and son, known as amae in Japanese.
A decade of flat economic indicators and a shaky job market in Japan
makes the pre-existing system requiring years of competitive schooling
for elite jobs appear like a pointless effort to many.
Japanese education system
See also: Kyoiku mama
The Japanese education system, like those found in China, Singapore
and South Korea, puts great demands upon youth. A multitude of
expectations, high emphasis on competition, and the rote memorization
of facts and figures for the purpose of passing entrance exams into
the next tier of education in what could be termed a rigid
pass-or-fail ideology, induce a high level of stress. Echoing the
traditional Confucian values of society, the educational system is
viewed as playing an important part in society's overall productivity
In this social frame, students often face significant pressure from
parents and the society in general to conform to its dictates and
doctrines. These doctrines, while part of modern Japanese society,
are increasingly being rejected by Japanese youth in varying ways such
as hikikomori, freeter,
NEET (Not currently engaged in Employment,
Education, or Training), and parasite singles. The term "Hodo-Hodo
zoku" (the "So-So tribe") applies to younger workers who refuse
promotion to minimize stress and maximize free time.
Beginning in the 1960s, the pressure on Japanese youth to succeed
began successively earlier in their lives, sometimes starting before
pre-school, where even toddlers had to compete through an entrance
exam for the privilege of attending one of the best pre-schools. This
was said to prepare children for the entrance exam of the best
kindergarten, which in turn prepared the child for the entrance exam
of the best elementary school, junior high school, high school, and
eventually for their university entrance exam. Many adolescents
take one year off after high school to study exclusively for the
university entrance exam, and are known as ronin. More prestigious
universities have more difficult exams. The most prestigious
university with the most difficult exam is the University of
Since 1996, the
Japanese Ministry of Education
Japanese Ministry of Education has taken steps to
address this 'pressure-cooker' educational environment and instill
greater creative thought in Japanese youth by significantly relaxing
the school schedule from six-day weeks to five-day weeks and dropping
two subjects from the daily schedule, with new academic curricula more
comparable to Western educational models. However, Japanese parents
are sending their children to private cram schools, known as juku, to
'make up' for lost time.
After graduating from high school or university, Japanese youth also
have to face a very difficult job market in Japan, often finding only
part-time employment and ending up as freeters with little income,
unable to start a family.
Another source of pressure is from their co-students, who may harass
and bully (ijime) some students for a variety of reasons, including
physical appearance, wealth, or educational or athletic performance.
Some have been punished for bullying or truancy, bringing shame to
their families. Refusal to participate in society makes hikikomori an
extreme subset of a much larger group of younger Japanese that
includes parasite singles and freeters.
Japanese financial crisis
Some organizations such as the non-profit Japanese organization NPO
lila have been trying to combat the financial burden the hikikomori
phenomenon has had on Japan's economy. The Japanese CD and DVD
producer Avex Group produces DVD videos of live-action women staring
into a camera to help hikikomori learn to cope with eye contact and
long spans of human interaction. The goal is to help hikikomori
reintegrate into society by personal choice, thereby realizing an
economic contribution and reducing the financial burden on
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