Japan, once poised to become a global economic powerhouse, is grappling with a unique societal challenge – the phenomenon of ‘Hikikomori’. As explored by Michael Zielenziger “Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation,” the country is seen to face disturbing social trends, including a population of over one million hikikomori.

What is Hikikomori?
Hikikomori, derived from Japanese words meaning “pulling inward” or “being confined,” refers to the extreme withdrawal of individuals from society. The Japanese Ministry of Health defines it as a condition where individuals, typically youths, refuse to leave their parents’ house, avoid work or school, and isolate themselves for more than six months.

Prevalence of Hikikomori Beyond Japanese Borders?
Estimates suggest that around 500,000 Japanese youths and more than 500,000 middle-aged individuals are affected by hikikomori. Notably, the phenomenon is not unique to Japan; a study conducted in various countries, including Australia, Bangladesh, India, and the USA, indicated that psychiatrists in these nations also recognized the existence of hikikomori.

What Causes Hikikomori?
Characterized by prolonged confinement to home, avoidance of social situations, and withdrawal from relationships, various factors are seen to contribute to its emergence, including developmental and psychiatric conditions, societal pressures, and cultural influences such as conformity, collectivism, and overprotective parenting.

The roots of social withdrawal in Japan trace back to historical notions of isolation as a path to enlightenment. Cultural factors, such as societal expectations and the educational system’s pressures, contribute to the prevalence of hikikomori. Modern technology, including the internet and video games, is considered an exacerbating factor.

Hikikomori more in Males>>Females?
While societal pressure on men to be breadwinners contributes to about 90% of hikikomori being male, evolving gender norms may lead to an increase in female hikikomori. Notably, the distinction between clinically diagnosed mental illness and the symptoms of hikikomori remains a complex issue.

The hikikomori phenomenon poses challenges for Japanese families and the economy. The “80–50 problem” highlights the potential financial burden as hikikomori children enter their 50s while relying on aging parents. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised concerns about exacerbating hikikomori-like behaviors due to increased loneliness.

How Can We Treat This Rising Global Phenomenon?
Addressing hikikomori requires a multifaceted approach.

  • Psychosocial support that focuses on families, emphasizing education and positive communication.
  • Treatment programs like exercise therapy and individual psychotherapy aim to cultivate self-confidence.

In conclusion, Hikikomori represents a complex societal challenge with deep cultural and historical roots in Japan. As the country grapples with the implications of this phenomenon, international studies suggest that social withdrawal tendencies exist beyond its borders. Addressing hikikomori requires a nuanced understanding of its causes, tailored interventions, and a recognition of its impact on individuals and society.

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