New York Times on ‘hikikomori’

A few days after our post on ‘hikikomori’ – the extreme social withdrawal increasingly seen in Japanese adolescents – the New York Times published an in-depth article on the controversy surrounding the phenomenon.

Coincidence? Well… yes. But an interesting and well-timed one nonetheless.

For all the attention, though, hikikomori remains confounding. The Japanese public has blamed everything from smothering mothers to absent, overworked fathers, from school bullying to the lackluster economy, from academic pressure to video games. “I sometimes wonder whether or not I understand this issue,” confessed Shinako Tsuchiya, a member of Parliament, one afternoon in her Tokyo office.

Link to article ‘Shutting Themselves In’.

5 thoughts on “New York Times on ‘hikikomori’”

  1. I just read the article and found your entry. I wasn’t aware this was a phenomoneon in Japan. I must admit I have had personal experience with this (I nevered lived in Japan). Surely there must be more studies and information on this. While hikikomori is described as “confounding”, I don’t see it being different from any other kind of withdrawal. If you find anyone else, please write about it.

  2. When I read that New York Times article, my immediate reaction was “This is an uncanny description of what we went through with our teenage son!”
    We are not in Japan and he never totally shut himself up, but he withdrew from most aspects of life in a manner similar to what the article described. Essentially, he was scared and demoralized — particularly about school and other kids, but also about other stuff, and he withdrew. He didn’t withdraw completely — he kept insisting that he was OK, and he went through periods where it looked like he might finally succeed in re-entering society, but he always ended up retreating to his room after a few days or weeks of relative normalcy.
    Consistent with the description in the article, he suffered from depression and anxiety. His symptoms and behavior convinced various doctors that he suffered from various mental illnesses for which he was prescribed antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and stimulants. When the pills didn’t work, dosages were increased and other medications were added, which probably only made him more dysfunctional.
    Fortunately, he finally got to a point where he admitted that he wasn’t going to be able to recover on his own and we got him into an effective (but costly) intervention program. He is doing very well now. The recipe was to get him out of the house into a situation where he could restore his self-esteem.
    I believe this general phenomenon is more common in the U.S. than the article implied, but is largely misdiagnosed.

  3. I’m in the UK and my son has been hikikomori for the last 8 years.He’s now 27 and has no social contact other than the internet.He rarely leaves his room and prefers to live at night as the article suggests.Because he is classed as an adult it is impossible to ask for help for him as I’m constantly told he needs to seek this himself.We’ve now resigned ourselves to the fact that despite his promises he isn’t likely to leave his room anytime soon.
    You have to realise that it isn’t as simple as simply throwing these kids out and making them socialise.He simply has no skills and suffers from a degree of OCD.Where would he go ?The risk of them commiting suicide is high in my opinion.
    This certainly isn’t simply a Japanese phenonemon.

    1. Spearish, I’m in the UK too, and also have a son I have recently identified as hikikomori. He is only 17 but has been this way already for well over a year. For a while I searched in vain for western instances of this phenomenon, but have now found that there are, as you say, many, it just isn’t necessarily identified as hikikomori.

      It’s so frustrating that mental health services can’t be mobilised unless the person themselves seeks help. Very depressing for the parent(s). I am having to seek psychiatric help myself. My son is extremely stubborn and pigheaded. Like you, I can’t see his behaviour changing any time soon.

      It’ss good to know I’m not alone.

  4. “Hikikomori” is actually an offshoot of what they call “Futoukou” or “school refusal” or “school phobia” in Japan. Basically, when the kids are in school it is called “Futoukou” – and when they reach adult age it is called “Hikikomori.” In 1992 there were only approximately 10,000 futouko while this rose to 140,000 in 2004 – an increase of 1,400%.
    While the psychologist who termed the condition seems to believe there is a psychological basis to this condition, Miike et al at Kumamoto University actually have been able to determine that there is rather a physiological basis to this phenomena. By doing a number of tests like measuring the flow of blood in the frontal cortex they determined that it was indeed what was inappropriately dubbed by the CDC in the USA in 1988 as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
    Personally, as someone who lived in Japan for 18 years and also someone who recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome I think I can understand exactly how they feel – i.e. I have an intimate knowledge of this problem. And also as someone who worked as an Associate Professor in a number of Japanese universities I was continuously puzzled by the catatonic behavior or the vapidness of the students there. I would guesstimate that perhaps 99% of students at one university I was working at had ADD or ADHD.
    In fact, a doctor/researcher outside of LA, a Dr. Michael J. Goldberg has indeed connected ADD/ADHD with Autism and also CFS.
    And what is the main factor causing all of this? Well, it might surprise many people out there to hear that it is indeed the major increase in the ambient EMR (Electromagnetic Radiation) we are continuously being bombarded with on a daily basis – i.e. 24/7 – from cell phone towers, cell phones, WiFi (Wireless Internet), WiMax, and DECT (Digitally Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) phones. At least according to the WHO anyway, the amount is tens of thousands of times the EMR we would usually get from the Sun and stars!
    How do I know all this? Read my papers. They explain everything:
    And why aren’t you being told? Well, it boils down to greed and denial! The cell phone industry makes hundreds of billions of dollars in profits every year! They indeed have a powerful lobby – indeed they are powerful enough to exert control over the media, the science, and the politicians. We no longer live in a democracy my friends (if we ever really did) but rather it has become increasingly a corporate totalitarian fascist state. Of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations!
    May the Force Be With You!

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