Hikikomori- The people who choose to live in extreme isolation

Original Publish Date:

We live in a fast-paced world filled with stress and pressure. Taking a break from it all can help reduce stress and improve overall health. Taking time to be alone can also help one connect with their inner self and aid in personal growth. Unfortunately, some people don’t recover from this period of isolation and instead experience extreme and persistent withdrawal that can last for decades. This pattern of behavior is known as “hikikomori” and is common in Japan.

The Origins of Hikikomori

The term “hikikomori” was coined in 1998 by Japanese psychiatrist Tamaki Saito. He used it to describe the young people he saw who were in a state of extreme withdrawal but showed no signs of mental illness. It is estimated that 1.2% of Japan’s population is affected by hikikomori. This phenomenon is now seen in other countries as well.

Characteristics of Hikikomori

Hikikomori is characterized by physical and social isolation for at least six months. People affected by hikikomori are unable to attend a school or work due to the social interactions involved. Some may still be able to do activities outside of their home, but they rarely interact with others. They may use the internet as an outlet but still have no personal social interactions.

Possible Causes of Hikikomori

The cause of hikikomori is thought to be traumatic experiences of shame and defeat, such as failing an exam or not getting a desired job. People affected by hikikomori want to avoid re-traumatization, so they opt out of the “normal” pathway set out for them by society. Research has shown that, although they don’t want to interact with society, they can’t forget the world they left behind.

Hikikomori and Mental Health Conditions

Experts are now beginning to see a possible connection between hikikomori and autism, depression, social anxiety, and agoraphobia. This lifestyle choice has been seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, where people have isolated themselves at home to stay safe. The fear of infection, job loss, and social disruption due to lockdown rules could increase the risk of social withdrawal and detachment for many people.

Impact on Families and Treatment Options

Hikikomori affects not only the individual but also their family. Mental health, educational, and social care services often focus on responding to more dramatic problems, leaving the family feeling stuck and isolated. As hikikomori increases, the prevalence of the condition is likely to rise. Treatment options focus on physical activity, rebuilding the capacity for social interactions, and the desire to return to school or work. Whole family therapy is also being considered. It is important to help hikikomori people express their abilities and talents in a socially acceptable way.

Get our Japan Travel Hacks Direct to Your Inbox

Avatar photo
About the author