Hikikomori

Imagine this, if you will; the average life of the common male youth, fully capable of obtaining a healthy occupation within his society. With a small description such as this, it’s not difficult to imagine this young male adult as a bustling worker towards the new tomorrow. The reality shows us however that this common male youth is in fact the opposite of many of these idealistic views.

He does not have a job. He does not have income. He is discouraged by society and labeled as a pariah due to his lack of contributions. On the positive side, he’s not homeless, but only because his home has become his new reality. A little drastic? Perhaps so, but that is sadly the case for many examples similar to this average male adult within the bustling hub of activity that is Japan.

In short, this man is a hikikomori. In other words, he is a modern day hermit who bides their time away from society to live within the confines of their home for an undetermined amount of time; sometimes for the rest of their lives. But the term “hikikomori” is not something novel to Japan; in actuality, hikikomori have been documented as far back as the late 90’s, but the concept has only now gotten attention by its Western counterparts as well as the major Japanese public.

The word “hikikomori” has the very literal definition of “pulling inward, being confined”. More often than not, this refers to both the physical, mental, and sociological attributes that define the hikikomori lifestyle. And almost all of the time, the term is used in negative contexts to refer to young Japanese men and women who choose to isolate themselves from society and take domain in their own homes.

So what’s the cause for this sudden influx of modern day hermits? And why are the youth of Japan so obsessed with the lifestyle? To explain such a thing, one would have to take a look at how Japan as a country is structured, along with the very pressing and serious matters Japanese youth face today.

Hikikomori are more often than not bred from external forces rather than internal ones. Faced with the rigid system that is Japan’s job market coupled with a very strict and most times unforgiving school system that holds no room for failure, many of Japan’s youth turn to complete social withdrawal. Be it as an act of defiance or a method to cope with the responsibilities expected of them, the results are the same, taken form through hikikomori.

As a result, those who become hikikomori suffer in social relations. Jobs are lost through quitting, family ties are cut, and even the mundane action of acquiring food is enacted through delivery services. To the outside viewer it sounds like a sad little life, but many people who turn to the hikikomori lifestyle actually feel empowered with their choices.

Because they express  introverted traits, so they are able to function at their best in solitude. In a way, hikikomori are able to obtain true independence, something that is arguably lacking in Japan’s expansive job market and overall society today. Hikikomori do not “follow the leader” but rather the values they choose to believe in because of their free independence. But while these youth may be seeing “the man” for what they really are and defying them, companies are losing more and more manpower as more and more people favor the way of the hikikomori.

As such, it’s quite obvious why Japan would be obsessed with the lifestyle. To the hikikomori, it is an expression of freedom and a chance to live the life they want without the restraints of society. To the rest of Japan and, subsequently, the world, it’s a dangerous practice that jeopardizes the individual and those around them. There’s negatives on both sides, but overall the hikikomori is merely an alternative lifestyle. And some would argue that maybe it’s not entirely a bad thing.

Like with all things in this world, there are positive and negatives to the issue and the common hikikomori is by no means an exception. But in the end, the root cause of this movement is correlated to Japan’s structure as a society. Until that is changed, there’s no doubt that the hikikomori will not be leaving anytime soon. As long as Japan continues as it is, its obsession with hikikomori and their culture will continue to thrive well into the future.

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