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Wednesday, July 8, 2015


One thing young Japanese men suffering from Hikikomori all have in common is their mother's love and devotion.  They are allowed to live a reclusive lifestyle behind their bedroom door, to sleep all day and spend all night in front of a computer screen.  In some cases, meals are left outside their room by their mothers who don't know what else to do.

They don't work, attend school, go out and some don't even speak.

Officially, Hikikomori is a rare mental illness only affecting about one per cent of the population, but because it's a shameful behaviour, the true figures are hard to find.

Hikikomori means 'shut in' - the person decides to totally disengage from society and develops mainly in boys between the ages of 14 and 15 and can continue for an entire lifetime, if enabled.

They are often painfully shy, socially inept and find it hard to interact with other people.  But hikikomori is not like Western agoraphobia - fear of leaving the house -  some will leave their bedroom in the dead of night to visit a 24/7 convenience store or buy snacks from a street vending machine which requires no human interaction at all.

The Japanese school system is harsh with ranking systems meting out success or failure based on academic ability so it follows that to fail at anything, particularly an entrance exam is so shameful, it can become too much to bear for some.

But doctors are only just finding out that recovery can only be successful if family interactions change which means the whole family must be involved, which isn't easy.

From an article by Sarah Marie Caulfield in 2014

Whilst a British family might contact a psychiatrist, Japanese parents will go to great lengths to hide the extent of the disorder from non-family members. This links back to the lack of progression in the mental health sector, which in certain parts of Asia is arguably half a century behind America. Mothers expect children, particularly sons, to be dependent on their parents into their thirties or forties, perhaps even living in the home without contributing, as a ‘parasite single'; the mother-son relationship is notably held so dear that mothers will often inadvertently assist hikikomori in their lifestyle – by leaving meals at the bedroom door, for example.

It just goes to prove what we already knew - a mother's love and devotion is a mighty powerful thing and in the end, it's discovered that she, his mother, is the source of the cure. 

If you’re interested in finding out more, read Shutting Out The Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation by Michael Zielenziger.