Hikikomori: Mental Illness or Lifestyle Choice?
Hikikomori (ひきこもり or 引き籠もり Hikikomori?, lit. “pulling away, being confined”, i.e., “acute social withdrawal”)
Although there are occasions where the hikikomori may venture outdoors, usually at night to buy food, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare defines hikikomori as individuals who refuse to leave their parents’ house, and isolate themselves from society in their homes for a period exceeding six months. While the degree of the phenomenon varies depending on the individual, some youths remain in isolation for years, or in rare cases, decades. Often hikikomori start out as school refusals, or tōkōkyohi (登校拒否) in Japanese.
While many people feel the pressures of the outside world, hikikomori react by complete social withdrawal. In some cases, they lock themselves in a room for prolonged periods, sometimes measured in years. They usually have few, if any friends.
Hikikomori often set their own sleep schedules, typically waking in the afternoon and going to bed early in the morning. Their days are characterized by long spells of sleeping, while nighttime hours are spent watching TV, drawing, playing computer games, surfing the Internet, reading, listening to music, and other non-social activities. While hikikomori favor indoor activities, most venture outdoors on occasion, though they prefer to do so at night.
Although rare, some hikikomori have become extremely wealthy. For example, starting with 1.6 million yen (apr. US$14,000) in 2000, Takashi Kotegawa (Japanese: 小手川 隆) grew his account in the JASDAQ Securities Exchange 10,000 fold over 7 years to 17 billion yen (apr. US$152 million).  He first gained fame in Japan after he managed to profit 2 billion yen (apr. US$20 million) in 10 minutes from a Mizuho Securities order blunder.
Refusal to participate in society makes hikikomori an extreme subset of a much larger group of younger Japanese that includes parasite singles and freeters. All three groups seem to reject the current social norms in unique ways, with lifestyles considered deviant by society at large.
The withdrawal from society usually starts gradually. Affected individuals may appear unhappy, lose their friends, become insecure, shy, and talk less. Those in their teens may be bullied at school, which, atop the already high pressures of school and family, may be the final trigger for withdrawal.
I heard this term and some explanation of it this morning on Studio 360 and became somewhat intrigued by the idea of it. After some light (heh) reading in Wikipedia, I have more questions than answers about this “disorder” than I had before the reading. Is this really a product of the Japanese society? A biproduct of their tense competitive schooling and terrible economy? Or, is it just a lifestyle choice that some have made due to the nature of technology today and its pervasive ability to limit our social interaction needs in real life?
On the face of it, I feel that some of this angst like behavior that starts in the teens is just being accepted by mothers and fathers and allowed to flourish. I see today in our society that it is too easy to just live at home because mom and dad will take care of you and allow you to wallow. The net effect is that parents are too pliant and coddling their kids too much. I say kick their ass out the door and tell them to go to school!
In some cases I can also see that these folks might indeed be agoraphobic on a certain level as well as perhaps have aspbergers traits. A fixation on a specific thing like the Otaku nature that has grown in Japan really seems to mark these people as exceedingly focused to almost an autistic level to start with. Add that to their strict social order and focus on polite behavior and wham, you have a real mix for an introverted individual.
On the one hand I think its whack.. On the other I am kinda fascinated by the whole thing. I feel a string of posts coming on this and the whole suicide movement in Japan in the near future…