Week 7: 引きこもり (Hikikomori)


The term “hikikomori,” which literally means “pulling away,” describes a uniquely Japanese phenomenon where young adults close themselves off from the outside world. First described in the late 1990s by psychiatrist Tamaki Saito, it has been seen by some to be the result of the new socioeconomic tensions brought about by the worldwide increase in globalization and the pressure put on young adults to go to college and find work. But whether or not it is a mental disorder or a silent rebellion is up for much debate, as some hikikomori have shown obsessive-compulsive tendencies, while others have self-harmed. In spite of this fact, treating hikikomori has proven to be exceptionally difficult, as some have done so by treating it in a rehabilitative manner, that is, the people treating hikikomori believe they can reintegrate themselves into society. Because of the long-standing stigmatization of mental health in Japan, this has been the preferred method of treatment over, say, drugs. In the end, though, when the Japanese government backed a study showcasing how hikikomori become that way, they got as inconclusive of an answer as one would expect. In the end, both social pressure and economic prospects play roles, as well as schizophrenia in some cases. Add the relative lack of mental health care in Japan, and this phenomenon is rather unique.

This week’s vocabulary:
知能指数 (ちのうしすう、またはアイキュー): IQ, intelligence quotient
That guy’s IQ is 150, and he goes to the University of Osaka, so he can definitely get a good job.

社会不安障害 (しゃかいふあんしょうがい): social anxiety disorder
When I talk to anyone, I always get incredibly anxious. So, I have social anxiety disorder.

強迫性障害 (きょうはくせいしょうがい): obsessive-compulsive disorder
She always does chores, and usually washes her hands 4 times after going to the bathroom. She has obsessive-compulsive disorder.

治癒 (ちゆ): recovery
Your son’s a hikikomori. So, for the purpose of recovery, why don’t we accompany him on his day out?

甘え (あまえ): dependence on others (esp. used in context of motherly love)
Don’t depend on anyone. Your mom’s old, you know.

I remember learning about hikikomori in both my high school Japanese course and my Communications/Inquiry course, but I had no idea just how prevalent it really was, nor had it occurred to me the impact that Japan’s mental health infrastructure has on it was so great. Along with Japanese culture’s pride on both motherly love and success outside of the family, there are plenty of reasons why this phenomenon exists. The fact that some parents keep supporting their hikikomori children in spite of all of this is also interesting to me, but it also does not seem like this phenomenon is linked to affluence.

Other sources on the subject:


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