Shedding Light in the Darkness

Strange World of Japan’s Hikikomori – Withdrawn Youth


Japan has been experiencing a bizarre phenomenon among young people linked to social anxiety. It is estimated that as many as a million young Japanese fear going outside and remain holed up in their homes, sometimes for years.

In a 2013 BBC report, a young man revealed, “gradually I became afraid to go out and fearful of meeting people. And then I couldn’t get out of my house.”

They are known as hikikomori – withdrawn.

Psychiatrist Tamaki Saito came up with the term after being consulted by parents who sought his help with children who had quit school and hidden themselves away for months and sometimes years at a time. Saito says they are paralyzed by profound social fears.

He wrote the book “Hikikomori: Adolescence without End,published in 1998, which became a Japanese best seller.

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare defines hikikomori as people who refuse to leave their house and, thus, isolate themselves from society in their homes for a period exceeding six months.

According to government figures released in 2010, there are 700,000 individuals living as hikikomori with an average age of 31. Among these are the hikikomori that are now in their 40s and have spent 20 years in isolation, this group is generally referred to as the “first-generation hikikomori.” Additionally the government estimates 1.5 million people are on the verge of becoming hikikomori. The condition has been linked with PTSD, trauma, and Asperger’s Syndrome.

The Japan Times reported on a former hikikomori, Kazushi Suganuma, who has established a support association to help young people adapt to social life through work experience. “I felt as if my presence had been rejected,” Suganuma recalled. He said he despised himself so much he was afraid of looking out the window or answering the phone. “I wanted to erase my life.”


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