Hikikomori (which essentially translates to "pulling inwards") is a psychological disorder that mimics many of the classic symptoms found in severe depression and/or social anxiety. Sufferers typically live with their parents, lock themselves inside of their rooms for weeks (sometimes months) at a time and only come out in the event of an emergency or for food, restroom breaks, etc. In the more severe cases, some Hikikomori relieve themselves inside of their rooms instead of going to the restroom. During these bouts, these individuals have very little contact with family or friends and can even become belligerent or violent towards themselves or others if asked to come out of their rooms. Many Hikikomori are males in their late teens or early twenties (there have been reported cases of middle aged and elderly individuals as well) that have “failed” at some aspect in their academic or social lives. Seclusion is more often than not a side effect of anxiety, depression, or any other high functioning psychological malady and Japan’s rigid and unforgiving social order has an almost zero tolerance policy for transgression or failure. This is usually the leading cause of this phenomenon. It is estimated that there are several hundred thousand Hikikomori in Japan but this number is actually believed to be much higher and estimates have even reached as high as two million. There have also been cases popping up in other countries around the world so this isn’t something that is exclusive to Japan.
Typically the individuals underperform in school thus making it difficult for them to secure a spot at a top rated university. Japanese culture is, in my opinion, unnecessarily rigid and puts the metaphorical burner under it’s citizens far too frequently. Japanese children are under exorbitant amounts of pressure from a very early age to complete these paint-by-numbers social milestones and I don’t believe that this is healthy in the slightest. My claims aren’t completely unfounded either as Japan, unfortunately, has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Couple that with the country’s rapidly declining birth rate and we have a recipe for disaster.
Trade school is still an option for those who do not perform well in the traditional academic system, but those jobs are not looked upon as favorably when compared to opportunities that an individual receives after completing university.
In Japan, almost everything is based on education. You are limited to many of the same jobs that you are in the U.S if you choose to forego higher education, but there is not nearly as much of a stigma here and there are other options for furthering your education, even if you underperformed during your traditional educational run. In the United States, people may raise an eyebrow when you tell them that you didn’t graduate from high school, chose not to attend college or dropped out of college, but typically, you won’t be crucified for it if you’ve found something else to pursue instead. That is one of the very few positives of the so-called American dream. We typically refer to that as “following your true calling” whereas the Japanese would call that out and out failure. I don’t think people should be pigeonholed and forced to live their lives based on something as silly as tests taken as children. Students already have enough on their plates as it is (navigating the social minefield that is high school, dealing with the awkwardness of puberty and trying to make sense of your own life) and then you add tests to the mix? No wonder people succumb to the stress and pull inward or worse.
So what is being done to help these people? There are support groups available for Hikikomori (I actually had quite a bit of difficulty finding one to link here for my readers, which is a problem as well) and some companies in Japan are working to help these individuals find some type of employment once they are ready to reintegrate back into society. While traditional psychological help is available as well, it is still relatively difficult to have treatment covered by medical insurance because this is not an official disorder as of yet. While there are definitely more steps that need to be taken to ensure that these people get the support that they need, I am glad to see that bloggers, vloggers and researchers are helping to spread awareness about culturally induced maladies. An awesome Youtuber by name of Unrested made an excellent video discussing this phenomenon.
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