The strange social issue of the “Hikikomori”

Now that we’re all spending most of our days at home, I thought it would be interesting to bring up a strange social issue that has been affecting Japan for the past couple of decades.

Some call them urban hermits. The term Hikikomori (引きこもり) describes people who, according to psychologists and sociologists, suffer from “acute social withdrawal”. Put into simpler words, they are reclusive adolescents and adults, people who refuse to participate in social life and decide to spend their entire lives shut-in at home, living with their parents who provide for them, not working or going to school, for any period of time exceeding 6 months. Usually stemming from background problems such as depression or extreme social anxiety or even more serious psychiatric conditions, this problem affects around 700.000 people in modern-day Japan.

Modern technology, which allows our computer screens to be a window to the rest of the world, is regarded as an aggravating factor to this social phenomenon. Internet addiction, for instance, is a recurring problem in these people, but not regarded by experts as part of the main issue. While some of the Hikikomori have a level of virtual social interaction, their real-life interaction is close to none. Due to their extreme reclusion, it’s a very hard issue to detect and to combat, as it’s quite rare for the alarm to be given in order to give them proper psychological aid, although a lot of the causes for this problem are often treatable through therapy and medication.

While Hikikomori are not as common in the rest of the world, there are cases of extremely reserved and shut-in people who spend most of their lives in their room everywhere, although we rarely hear anything about it. Official cases of Hikikomori have been found in the United States, United Kingdom, Morocco, Oman, Spain, Italy, India, South Korea, Finland, and France.

These are perhaps the only people in the world whose lives won’t be affected by the Coronavirus situation we’re living through. Keep in mind that being quarantined and being a Hikikomori are absolutely different situations, however, these weeks where we can’t go outside might work as a window into their lives and allow us to empathize with people who are extremely closed or introverted.

And why not, I’ll share with you a rock song made by a Portuguese band who happen to be personal friends of mine. The song, titled ‘Hikikomori’, speaks precisely about this issue.

Rúben Pais

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