Understanding Hikikomori

Hikikomori (pron. He-key-koh-moh-ree) literally means “pulling away, confinement” or an acute social withdrawal.  Hikikomori is a relatively new social phenomenon that the Japanese government defines as individuals who isolate themselves from the rest of society in their parents’ homes for at least 6 months.  It is estimated that hundreds of thousands possibly upwards of 1,200,000 people (or 1% of the population) struggle with this social anxiety.  Approximately 75-80% of the cases are men, usually the oldest son, many with problems communicating with others.  Though usually cases of complete social isolation last 4 years some last even into decades. Cases have been found among 13-14 years olds through those into their 20s.  Most of the cases exist among the middle and upper middle class families.

Basically this social phenomenon is unique to Japan which is bound with the Japanese cultural elements of family structure, societal pressures and the group oriented society.  Cases usually develop after repeated social trauma which forces the individual to shut themselves off from society.  Typical Hikikomori thinking and behavior is that it is safer to be a house hermit and recluse than to venture out and attempt to fit into society.  They are often overwhelmed by having to interact with others, possibly fail in their endeavors, or be noticed by others.  So they give up on society.

Unfortunately there are few churches ministering in this serious but difficult to address social need.  Pray that God would raise up “wounded healers” for this “lost generation.”

More Resources on Hikikomori:

1. Shutting out the Sun: How Japan Created its Own Lost Generation by Michael Zeilenziger (2006).  His book reviews some other recent social changes in Japan like suicide, depression, alcoholism and how they impact Japanese society especially the younger generation. It is available on Amazon.

2. James McCormick has a very good review of Zeilenziger’s book and he adds his own reflections and insights.  http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/5045.html

3. Valuable New York Times article, Shutting Themselves In, by Maggie Jones, which outlines some real cases and their treatments.  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/15/magazine/15japanese.html?ei=5090&en=7a1fdac3eb790b32&ex=1294981200&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=all

4. Hikikomori has also been a subject of several video and audio documentaries such as BBC and NPR.

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