Why Are Thousands Of Japanese Young Adults Recluses?

A startling number of Japanese young adults are suffering from a condition called hikikomori, in which they don't leave their homes or interact with others for at least six months.

How Prevalent Is It, Really?

You know that feeling when you just want to melt into your bed and go on a Netflix bender? You might even cancel plans with friends, put your cell phone on silent, and shut your door to the outside world. If you're a teenager without responsibilities, this could easily go on for days. But what about half a year?

A 2016 Japanese cabinet survey revealed that 541,000 young Japanese suffer from hikikomori and withdraw from society for months, or even years, at a time — this doesn't even account for affected Japanese 40 and older. Other estimates for hikikomori go into the millions. The study showed that those experiencing hikikomori for at least seven years comprised a whopping 34.7 percent of that 541,000 total. (To put this in perspective, the current population of Japan is approximately 127 million.)

While the term hikikomori was coined in the 1980s by the Japanese Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry, much debate still surrounds the exact triggers for this condition. Takahiro Kato, a neuropsychiatrist professor at Kyushu University, tells CNN that psychological aspects of this syndrome stem from depression and anxiety, but "there are also cultural and societal influences at play."

The Effects Of Sekentei And Amae

One young Japanese male named Hide explained to the BBC how he became victim to hikikomori after he stopped going to school: "I started to blame myself and my parents also blamed me for not going to school. The pressure started to build up. Then, gradually, I became afraid to go out and fearful of meeting people. And then I couldn't get out of my house."

Hide was suffering from sekentei, which one study described as "a social construct that causes a person to worry about others' evaluations of his or her behavior." In other words, a person's reputation in the community and the pressure he or she feels to impress others.

2016 study revealed that hikikomori "a response to a situation that informants felt powerless to change and from which they could see no way out." Many young adults face difficulties adjusting to a real job after school, for example, but people who develop hikikomori lack the coping skills to deal with this transition. Instead, they shut down and avoid the world.

The Japanese culture is also one of dependence, or amae. It's common in Japanese culture for women to live with their parents until marriage, and men may never leave their home. Kato notes that the rates of hikikomori are much higher in Japanese men than women because their society places higher expectations on men. Japanese parents traditionally expect a lot from their children (especially their sons) and may even push them into career paths that they don't want. Then, they want them to succeed. That's some crippling pressure, huh?

These Japanese Men Lock Themselves In Their Bedrooms For Years

Studies point towards societal pressures and Japanese cultural norms.

Written by Curiosity Staff January 6, 2017

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