Hikikomori (ひきこもり or 引き籠もり, Hikikomori, lit. "pulling inward, being confined", i.e., "acute social withdrawal") is a Japanese term to refer to the phenomenon of reclusive adolescents or young adults who withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement. The term hikikomori refers to both the sociological phenomenon in general as well as to people belonging to this societal group. Hikikomori are often associated with otaku but the terms are distinct.
The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare defines hikikomori as a condition in which the affected individuals refuse to leave their parents' house, and isolate themselves away from society and family in a single room 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, and social relationships,
- social withdrawal symptoms causing significant functional impairment,
- duration of at least six months, and
- no apparent physical or mental etiology to account for the social withdrawal symptoms.
The psychiatrist Alan Teo first characterized hikikomori in Japan as 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 (登校拒否)).
Common Traits Edit
While many people feel the pressures of the outside world, hikikomori react by complete social withdrawal. In some more extreme cases, they isolate themselves in their bedrooms for months or years at a time. 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 these individuals.
While hikikomori favor 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.
A 2015 Cabinet Office survey estimated that 541,000 recluses aged 15 to 39 existed. In 2019, another survey showed that there are roughly 613,000 people aged 40 to 64 that fall into the category of "adult hikikomori", which Japan's welfare minister Takumi Nemoto referred to as a "new social issue."
While hikikomori is mostly a Japanese phenomenon, cases have been found in the United States, Morocco, Oman, Spain, Italy, South Korea, Finland 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.