Homes they don't leave
February 1, 2019 5:03 AM   Subscribe

More than half a million Japanese people are hermits "But in Japan half a million people live as modern-day hermits. They are known as hikikomori – recluses who withdraw from all social contact and often don’t leave their houses for years at a time. A government survey found roughly 541,000 (1.57% of the population) but many experts believe the total is much higher as it can take years before they seek help. The condition was initially thought to be unique to Japan, but in recent years cases have appeared across the world. In neighbouring South Korea, a 2005 analysis estimated there were 33,000 socially withdrawn adolescents (0.3% of the population) and in Hong Kong a 2014 survey pegged the figure at 1.9%. It’s not just in Asia, cases are appearing in the US, Spain, Italy, France and elsewhere." If you're in the US and want to be a hermit, here are, according to Estately, the best places to seek your hermitage.
posted by mareli (62 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've heard of this before... my question is, how do so many people do this financially? Are they remote workers? What's their means of support?

Leaving the house is over-rated, but I try to get out at least once a year whether I need to or not.
posted by jzb at 5:35 AM on February 1 [20 favorites]


In Japan, they are most commonly supported by parents. Even hikikomori into their 40s are supported by aging parents which may have to keep working just to support their hermit child. I’ve read of instances of parents not even physically seeing their children for years, they will put food in front of their door and the child will take it when they are not around.

I could also imagine hermits living off disability payments or something similair. All they need is an internet connection and basic food to survive.
posted by xtine at 5:44 AM on February 1 [12 favorites]


Interesting stuff. There have been phases in my life, when I was deep in the grip of depression, when I did not appear in public for months at a time. (Thankfully those times are in the past for me, hopefully never to return.) Even then though, I would leave my house or my room regularly—sneaking out at night, when nobody would see me. Even now, although I am still quite introverted and happily get by living a quiet existence in which whole days sometimes pass without my speaking to anyone else in person, I feel that I must leave my home at least once a day, even just for a few minutes, or else I start to become anxious and depressed. I can't imagine going for years and years like that, never standing under the sky, never being outside of walls. A solitary existence I can understand, but an indoor existence I cannot.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:56 AM on February 1 [36 favorites]


Looking at the Urban Hermit City Rankings, I live in tied for #28 St. Petersburg and I'm not sure GrubHub matters when UberEats delivers from everywhere. No idea about alcohol delivery but I'd bet they deliver that too.
posted by lordrunningclam at 6:10 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


My city is also in the 20s but I think would be much higher if the rankings were better...I mean, Chicago is HUGE, of course there's 100 grubhubs.
posted by sexyrobot at 6:25 AM on February 1


(Also, I find it hard to believe that 100% of workers in Austin, TX work from home.)
posted by sexyrobot at 6:28 AM on February 1 [8 favorites]


Lot of game development studios in Austin... they're probably listing their offices as their primary residence.
posted by thoroughburro at 6:29 AM on February 1 [7 favorites]


(Also, I find it hard to believe that 100% of workers in Austin, TX work from home.)

Yeah, that threw me too ("over 70% of people in San Francisco work from home??"). I don't think it's a percentage - I think it's a weighted ranking, so all it's telling you is that more people work from home in Austin than anywhere else, presumably relative to the population of the city. The table could use a key.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 6:34 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


In Japan, they are most commonly supported by parents. Even hikikomori into their 40s are supported by aging parents which may have to keep working just to support their hermit child. I’ve read of instances of parents not even physically seeing their children for years, they will put food in front of their door and the child will take it when they are not around.

I could also imagine hermits living off disability payments or something similair. All they need is an internet connection and basic food to survive.


They also need someone to actually physically bring them the necessary supplies to live on, which means they need the complicity of family or friends.

I dated someone whose younger sister had basically done this--come home from winter break of her freshman year of college, retreated into the room at the end of the hall in her parents' house, locked the door, and not emerged for months. The entire family was deeply, deeply in denial about what this meant, as an actual diagnosis of schizophrenia would have been a black mark on the family's name. They brought her food and and water, and generally refused to acknowledge the enormous elephant in the room.

All of which is to say, I wonder how much of this story is mental health, and a reluctance among the older generation to acknowledge it for what it is.
posted by Mayor West at 6:36 AM on February 1 [52 favorites]


I just finished Hideo Yokoyama's Six-Four, which is a great long read, all sorts of machinations within japanese police society. One minor character, feeling guilt for something he did, has locked himself in his bedroom for 14 years. His parents have not seen him or spoken with him for the entire time. What struck me is that this isn't a major plot point or anything, its treated as just part of the background of japanese society.
posted by vacapinta at 6:37 AM on February 1 [8 favorites]


A solitary existence I can understand, but an indoor existence I cannot.

I think video games are a perfectly valid social activity. And chat rooms. And Metafilter. But I think what you see with this is that the existence is not actually particularly solitary, except by the standards of people who don't understand the internet very well. But most people in the US who have depression and anxiety to the degree that they'd find this sort of thing desirable will still go out at least occasionally. I, honestly, could probably do this if I wasn't careful, especially in a career track where getting a remote job isn't that improbable--but there are still things that would tempt me out into the real world every now and then.

What this article describes are some additional features, basically, on top of that. People who tried to get out and find activities to do, but got critical receptions in those places for not being "normal". Parents who feel obligated to support the child but also deeply ashamed of that child--I can't help but think that there's something here about the people living at home feeling like they can't come out and participate normally with the rest of the family unless they're ready to also find and hold down a job. And then Japan's notorious for being incredibly hard to find a job if you fall off the normal education/employment track. So if you're a smart person but your options are working part-time retail and constant shaming from family/neighbors or hiding in your room... yeah.

I'm certainly no expert on Japan, but I get the distinct impression that there is not a warm welcome and tons of support waiting for most of these people when they do leave their rooms. There's definitely a mental health aspect, but I think this problem is going to be most noticeable in communities and families where there's a deep stigma attached to what would otherwise be mildly-disabling mental health issues.
posted by Sequence at 6:40 AM on February 1 [17 favorites]


This has been a story for about twenty years.

TBH, I would like to recommend that people NEVER get their news about Japan from BBC. BBC just publishes rehashed hot takes about Japan that are not enlightening at all.

For example, in this hot take, the BBC frames the story of a man who committed premeditated armed robbery as that of an impoverished pensioner who merely wanted to get free meals in jail. Atrocious journalism.

A good source of news and insights about Japan is Nippon.com. The site translates articles by Japanese journalists and academics into English and a variety of other languages. As a result you can read what Japanese people are thinking, saying and arguing about issues in Japan.

Nippon.com has a whole bunch of stories -- written by Japanese people -- about hikikomori.

Here a mental health professional helps explain the hikikomori syndrome.
posted by JamesBay at 6:48 AM on February 1 [66 favorites]


To approach it fictionally: I can recommend, with steep reservations, the extremely dark comedy novel/anime series Welcome to the NHK (I haven't read the manga version).

I have a family member with a load of emotional/mental issues and disabilities who is dear to us all, yet has not been able to "function in society" in some time. I got through the full WttNHK series once. It was cathartic in some ways, but I haven't been up to watching it again.

The reservations are for pitch-black comedy. The (apparently semi-autobiographical?) narrator has what appears to be paranoid schizophrenia, and the plot mines dysfunctional fandom tropes, Nice Guyism, manic pixie dream girls, pyramid schemes, suicide pacts, the role of enabling family, etc. etc. Wow is it some hard sledding. I still kind of love it in a way.
posted by cage and aquarium at 6:52 AM on February 1 [5 favorites]


I'm always a bit dubious about stories like this. I'm certain some such people do exist, but I can't help but think the numbers are wildly exaggerated, especially as both Japan and the West loves a good "wow, Japan is so weird and different from everyone else" story.

The most popular genre of non-fiction in Japan is books about how unique and weird Japan is when compared to the rest of the world, and much of what's published there is sensationalist bunk. A few years ago the big exciting thing to be deeply worried about was young Japanese people who never dated, these days it's young Japanese people who refuse to leave their rooms.

To an extent we're looking at the Japanese version of all those "Millennials are killing X" stories the American press so dearly loves. Claiming the younger generation is inferior, worthless, and will be the end of the country is always a popular thing for a large segment of the older generations.

Again, I'm not going to claim that this is entirely invented or that there aren't some hikikomori. But I also suspect both the numbers claimed and the number who actually hermit up vs people who just shut out their families while still leaving and interacting with non-family people is probably also exaggerated. It's probably easier for a lot of the more conservative people to say "Oh, Yanda is a hikikomori" than it is to say "oh, Yanda doesn't want to talk to us because he's gay and we had a giant fight and now he won't speak to us".

I'm not sure how you could actually get solid numbers and separate fact from sensationalism.
posted by sotonohito at 7:21 AM on February 1 [21 favorites]


I just finished Hideo Yokoyama's Six-Four, which is a great long read, all sorts of machinations within japanese police society. One minor character, feeling guilt for something he did, has locked himself in his bedroom for 14 years. His parents have not seen him or spoken with him for the entire time. What struck me is that this isn't a major plot point or anything, its treated as just part of the background of japanese society.

I thought of that element of Six-Four also (and always recommend the book, I loved it).

Here in the US, I do know a number of people with adult children who live at home in close-to shut in conditions -- staying mostly in their rooms or the basement, and keeping their sleep cycles offset from the parents so they are rarely awake and at home at the same time.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:22 AM on February 1 [6 favorites]


Another perspective.
posted by mareli at 7:39 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine going for years and years like that, never standing under the sky, never being outside of walls.

A back yard is key.

They also need someone to actually physically bring them the necessary supplies to live on, which means they need the complicity of family or friends.

Amazon does just fine.

my question is, how do so many people do this financially?

In Japan I have no idea, but in much of Latin America you could live that way on $5,000 USD a year.

I can't help but think the numbers are wildly exaggerated,

The numbers seem low to me. Lack of mobility has always been a problem for the elderly and the explosion of cheap and comprehensive delivery services has removed a major reason for them to get up and out. If you don't particularly feel the need for in-person social contact there's no reason to leave the house.

Of course the idea of not needing in-person social contact is completely unfathomable to a certain type of person (ahem...extroverts...ahem) so the whole thing is made to sound like a pathological condition rather than a pleasant way to organize your life.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:51 AM on February 1 [6 favorites]


I'm certain some such people do exist, but I can't help but think the numbers are wildly exaggerated

While I agree with you about how Japan is typically framed both outside and inside of Japan (Japanese culture can be very Orientalist about itself), I'm pretty sure there are government numbers that track hikikomori. I'll see if I can dig them up today.
posted by JamesBay at 7:53 AM on February 1 [4 favorites]


my question is, how do so many people do this financially?

Hikikomori is generally a Gen X thing. Their parents (not Boomers) were born around the end of the war and would have experienced tremendous hardship and poverty, but also Japan's economic boom. Their parents were savers, and now have pensions and that sort of thing.

So, essentially hikikomori live off of their parents, either at home or perhaps their parents pay for an apartment or something. In those sorts of cases, hikikomori don't need any money, since the parents are paying for electricity, Internet and food.

Just like in any other advanced economy (Japan is just a normal country), some adult children will rely on parental pension payments for income. Elder abuse is not at all unusual.
posted by JamesBay at 7:58 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


I have recently considered that my life is not too different from this. I go to work, to the grocery store, the gas station, the laundromat, and Target. Maybe once every month or so to the bank or the hardware store. That's it. Is my life really any larger than these hikikomori?
posted by SPrintF at 8:28 AM on February 1 [7 favorites]


Apparently living in New York just makes you want to be a hermit, without being hermit-friendly itself.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:33 AM on February 1 [9 favorites]


Is my life really any larger than these hikikomori?

Yes. These are people who do not leave their room except to use the toilet or perhaps shower. They don't talk to anyone, not even their parents or whoever the live with. They do not talk to, for example, the person who delivers their meals. They stay in their room. And that's it.
posted by JamesBay at 8:52 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Some of my inlaws, an aunt and uncle, have a hikikomori son. If you hear his story and have ever suffered a mental illness or been close to someone who has, you'll definitely identify cycles of depression, shame, etc that will ring familiar. It snowballed from a failure at a workplace decades ago.

There are nuances of Japanese culture that make all this possible, but in his case he is threatening and violent when they try to in anyway handle him or confront him. Their "solution" is to stay out of the house as much as possible and yet they still provide him meals. It's also a shameful secret to them, that they only speak of to family to whom they are very close. It's a perfect storm that makes it difficult for anyone to reach out to what little help there is, and keeps everyone isolated.

They are kind, but flawed humans, aging rapidly under the stress. The future looks bleak and it honestly breaks my heart when they talk about it. We feel a bit powerless to help them.
posted by AaronTheBaron at 9:00 AM on February 1 [15 favorites]


Is my life really any larger than these hikikomori?

Like most groups with extreme behavior, hikikomori exist at the end of a long curve. From your description it sounds like you’re out that direction.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:04 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


IME there's a related dynamic in non-urban areas, at least in the US, where if you cannot drive, it's almost impossible to go anyplace without help. If your potential helpers - parents, siblings, spouse - are themselves not well, working a lot, or otherwise reluctant to drive you around, you might spend months or years at home.

Being mentally ill and NEET in this city still lets me use the bus or train to shop, run errands, and bring myself to therapist appointments. If I had to drive to those places, walk long distances without sidewalks, or get relatives to bring me, I would spend far less time outside the house, which would further deteriorate my physical or psychological well-being.

After an injury to her right foot, I watched my extremely outgoing, energetic grandmother become someone miserable who spent weeks on the sofa in the living room and struggled to use her walker to get to the door, in part due to deconditioning.

It is a spectrum, and it's frequently about disability, and the worst of it is probably closer to you than you would like.
posted by bagel at 9:14 AM on February 1 [19 favorites]


It's not at all surprising that this seems to be a disability issue, but I was really expecting to see some discussion on agoraphobia in connection to this, because it seems like there would be some substantial overlap. I'm also interested in breakdowns around gender and other demographic information - there are obviously class issues, but what else is there? I also wonder if anyone has done a survey on people who had been hikikomori and then had their parents stop making them meals or otherwise providing the support required to let them just stay in.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:44 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


With the caveat that what JamesBay said about the BBC probably applies to this as well…

“Japan's modern-day hermits: The world of hikikomori” [Caution: Death] — France 24 English, 18 January 2019

The last part of this is quite interesting. They spend time with some people working on a magazine for hikikomori, by hikikomori. They're trying to fight back against the narrative that THE MAN lays on them.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:49 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


For books, there's Shutting Out The Sun by Michael Zielenziger. I haven't read it since before I came to England, but I remember it being decent.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:19 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


A few years ago the big exciting thing to be deeply worried about was young Japanese people who never dated, these days it's young Japanese people who refuse to leave their rooms.

These sound like related phenomena
posted by bookman117 at 10:38 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]


It's not at all surprising that this seems to be a disability issue

It's not necessarily a disability issue as the Japanese psychiatrist I mentioned upthread explains. It's social and cultural. Failure to launch results in shame and seclusion.

There are fewer chances for personal reinvention in Japan following professional failure (e.g., failure to get a career-track job, or being fired from a career-track job).

Following a failure, some people cope but others cannot cope and seclude themselves. But I don't think it's entirely a mental health issue all of the time.

I think some people may just not have the resilience to put up with the bullshit you have to go through being an adult in Japan. I don't want to deal with it here in Canada, and prefer working from home (I do have an on-site contract I go to 3 days a week).

I did the JET programme, and was lucky enough to go into it with intermediate Japanese skills, teaching experience in Japan and a B.Ed with a minor in educational counselling.

I often hung out in the "heartful classroom" at school. This was a classroom just for hikikomori kids who were being persuaded to return to school and engage with learning.

These were normal, bright, lively kids who just could not deal with the bullshit of classroom life. You could even say they had a healthy sense of self-esteem and self-preservation. But, like a lot of adolescents, they lacked the social skills needed to successfully participate in the group. They didn't want to put up with the bullshit and just stayed at home.

We had different friends (still do) whose kids didn't go to school in Japan and were classified as hikikomori. The kids are fine, intelligent, interesting to talk to. But in each case they said they found dealing with school to be a pain in the ass.

I think there are lots of kids in Canada like this, too.
posted by JamesBay at 10:41 AM on February 1 [19 favorites]


There are fewer chances for personal reinvention in Japan following professional failure

This seems pretty key. During the times in my life when I was really at rock bottom in terms of depression, what eventually got me out of it was the ability to reinvent myself. I returned home to my parents, yes. But my parents were in a whole other part of the country, where I could go out and start to rebuild pretty much from scratch. Which is what I did both times, and this time I think it finally stuck.

It was a rocky and painful road, and I am immensely fortunate to have had the support and opportunities to be able to recover—twice—from situations in my life that might otherwise have laid me low for good. If I had been unable to see a path to starting over, I don't know what would have happened to me. Perhaps my life would have simply hit a dead end, as seems to have happened to these folks. I can see that all too easily.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:04 PM on February 1 [16 favorites]


Ugh. This is currently happening to me. Your comment resonates strongly, Anticipation. Thanks for sharing.
posted by thoroughburro at 1:15 PM on February 1 [6 favorites]


That hermit ranking chart is extremely confusing. So... San Francisco is ranked 16 out of 100 in housing affordability because it's expensive? Is 100 the most affordable place? What a mess.

I'm not even going to rehash the awkwardness of "% of workers who are home based" as a rank instead of an actual percentage, like you would expect.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:15 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


It is natural and not unreasonable to stay in a place where you are safe and have your needs met, if you can. The internet and supportive (or enabling if you want to be negative) families make doing this easier for urbanites. Doing this in rural settings is not as hard.

when i worked in an office like setting, i had a colleague chase me down a hallway into the mens room saying "but its an emergency" after i told her i couldn't talk right now: she wanted to wish me a happy friday and ask if i knew what they were serving for lunch, i was on my phone learning about my sister-n-laws miscarriage.

The unconcious goal of extroverts is to find the introverts when they are vulnerable and to torture them, because extroverts believe it is pathological to be an introvert. Its like sunbathers trying to coerce vampires to go to the beach "for their own good".

so 2 people in 100 in japan have found a good shelter from this horrible world.... well, we'd better ruin that for them, and feel good about it!
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 1:17 PM on February 1 [14 favorites]


Strength, thoroughburro. You can get through it. Take it one day at a time. I am quite happy with my life nowadays.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:30 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


I'm always a bit dubious about stories like this. I'm certain some such people do exist, but I can't help but think the numbers are wildly exaggerated, especially as both Japan and the West loves a good "wow, Japan is so weird and different from everyone else" story.

Having worked for a while as a home library / sometimes-de-facto estate buyer, I saw and heard about a number of instances of very similar situations among people in the Washington, D.C. area. Also, an older relative of ours, due to his refusal to address a variety of physical, mental, and addiction issues, currently hasn't left his house in two years and looks unlikely ever to do so again (he does willingly have minimal contact with family members, though).

The Japanese have a name for it, and it seems to afflict (or at least the term sticks best to) a specific demographic, which makes it easier for media to identify as a trend / phenomenon, but my gut feeling is that there are many, many Americans operating along this spectrum, and quite a few at the extreme end of it.

I should qualify that I've myself been an aspirational near-shut in at a few points in my life, related to, but not entirely a product of, anxiety and depression. I don't think there's anything wrong with being a hermit provided that it brings you some real peace and you don't have to parasitize anyone else to do it. But being in some of those houses back when made it very clear that there are a lot of people for whom this lifestyle is effectively a prison.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:56 PM on February 1 [10 favorites]


The Japanese have a name for it, and it seems to afflict (or at least the term sticks best to) a specific demographic, which makes it easier for media to identify as a trend / phenomenon

There is a clinical term in North America, social isolation, although it's usually used in the context of seniors living alone away from family or any other support network.
posted by JamesBay at 2:09 PM on February 1


Yeah ryanshepard, I don't think it's all that uncommon here in the US of A. I visit people's houses for my own job, and occasionally I get a strong sense that the customer whose house I'm visiting basically never leaves. Once in a great while there is someone there who seems actively hostile to my presence, as if I am invading their sanctum—that is always very uncomfortable, presumably for them as well as for me. I have some bits of this tendency myself, even now—I don't like it when people go into my room without permission, for instance. Now I have my own house and people pretty much can't enter the building at all without my permission.

This is the life I want, though. A big part of my recovery was accepting that it was OK to want to be alone a lot, and then seeking out a life where I could do that. It gives me the space I need to be able to be pleasant and friendly to folks when I do go out into the world. I feel much more open to the idea of dealing with other people when I have a safe, quiet, private place to return to.

It's certainly a spectrum, I think. Wherever you are on it, it's important to love yourself and not be ashamed.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:24 PM on February 1 [9 favorites]


I apologize for my use of "enabling", Anchorite. That was an overly broad brush.
posted by cage and aquarium at 2:43 PM on February 1


The unconscious goal of extroverts is to find the introverts when they are vulnerable and to torture them, because extroverts believe it is pathological to be an introvert.

"unconscious"?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:51 PM on February 1 [6 favorites]


My point is, for these shut ins, we shouldn't default to the position that being isolated is the problem or is a problem, we should be open to the possibility that this is a reasonable,coping strategy to real external constraints. at least sometimes these people are:
1) following a social script for the acceptable way to deal with mental illness/eccentricity or school/career failure/burnout/aversion.
2) their families are also choosing that this is better than the alternatives (family dishonor, expensive or, unproven care, poor prospects in the economy)
3) instead of complaining that these undeserving moochers are getting a free lunch, we should demand a social safety net that allows everyone for a time-out of the rat-race, a way to avoid abusers, a way to get help, and then support to get back into the arena if they choose. And if they don't choose, we can afford to support them in their isolation. We already support millions of people who only consume and don't produce: we call them the rich, and we also let them make hugh social/political decisions and we excuse them from following many laws. I think 2 people out of a hundred could be kept in PB&J sandwiches or udon or poutine or whatnot without breaking the bank.
4) these people at worst are hurting themselves. Its not crazy to stay in a room and live online. Its crazy to pretend going out on town, driving, buying junk, wearing fancy clothes, and consuming at socially acceptable levels and thereby polluting at OECD levels isnt unintentionally murdering many hundreds of millions of tomorrows children.
/rant
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 3:54 PM on February 1 [11 favorites]


I’ve kept myself inside for a month or so a few times. It wasn’t on purpose; I simply had no reason to leave. I am retired and married. My partner is quite accommodating, perhaps too much so.
posted by deborah at 4:44 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I'm a pretty severe introvert and frequently threaten to become a stylite, but if I just gave up on life and leaving the house altogether, God, for once I hope everyone will not decide to honor my preferences but will try to get me help. I doubt the hikikomori are happy. There's a difference between cultivating solitude and hiding away in shame and fear from the world.
posted by praemunire at 4:49 PM on February 1 [8 favorites]


their families are also choosing that this is better than the alternatives (family dishonor, expensive or, unproven care, poor prospects in the economy)

This strikes me as a severe problem. I don't see how this supports the argument that extreme self-isolation is a reasonable coping strategy. A family may choose something to avoid shame and embarrassment, but that doesn't make the thing they do OK, even if they may be more afraid of the alternative. I understand the concern that people are making unfair assumptions, but cultural relativism doesn't mean uncritical acceptance. People do harmful stuff all the time because they've decided it's the best alternative. It's not unreasonable to think a family is harmed by this, just because it's a burden they've consciously taken on.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:56 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


I doubt the hikikomori are happy. There's a difference between cultivating solitude and hiding away in shame and fear from the world.

I imagine they feel different ways about it, as there are a lot of them and they are all individuals. Their feelings probably range from contented bliss to violent paranoia, which is probably the same range that you'd find if you took any random sampling of 500,000 people. I think that's a lot of what Anchorite was trying to get at.

Some of these people are living their best and most authentic lives and are harming nobody, while others are trapped in a prison of their own making and are a danger to themselves and their caretakers. Most are doubtless somewhere in between those two extremes, just like anyone else.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:50 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


Their feelings probably range from contented bliss to violent paranoia, which is probably the same range that you'd find if you took any random sampling of 500,000 people.

I'm sure there must be some towards the more contented end of the spectrum, but that people shut up in their houses, not even interacting with their families, rejecting basic adult accomplishments and responsibilities and self-care and not even substituting anything meaningful in their place, are just about as happy as any other group of people? Sometimes you can try so hard to be nonjudgmental you end up looping yourself right out of reality.
posted by praemunire at 9:11 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


It's not judgemental to be alarmed by people walling themselves up into tiny prison cells for years/decades/forever. That's alarming behavior. And no wonder that their families are also stressed and ashamed, most people are stressed and ashamed when their children are imprisoned. How horrible to become your own warden and to force your parents into the role of COs.

I don't think that hikikomori are getting a free lunch. My parents would also not force me to live on the street or starve as long as they have room and food for me, so I guess I could become a hikikomori, too, if I wanted. But I would never want to, because it seems like a very bleak existence. Total dependence, every day the same, no experience that's not mediated by a screen, helplessly watching the outside world from afar, causing your parents grief. The solitude is fine, or fine enough, it's the idea of being trapped in a room for years and years...thinking of it makes me feel claustrophobic. It makes me think of The Yellow Wallpaper.

There are probably some content hikikomori, because I guess people always fall into some sort of bell curve, and there are likely some hikikomori who fall far along the contentedness tail. But I wouldn't *expect* anyone to feel content in that situation, because it seems like a pretty punishing situation to live in. And I wouldn't expect them to become more content and healthy over time, as those conditions wear away at them -- and wear away at their caretakers.

I'm sure there are as many reasons for hikikomori to have made their bedrooms their cells as there are hikikomori, but it seems as though the catalyst for their withdrawal is often that they're faced with a devastating disappointment, or they're overcome by fear of possible devastating disappointments. Toxic perfectionism isn't something that can be ameliorated on a societal scale, though? But then, if I had any clue about how to ameliorate toxic perfectionism, I would do something about my own!
posted by rue72 at 10:14 PM on February 1 [6 favorites]


Blaise Pascal — "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."

I'm an urban hermit, so I sometimes quote Pascal on this matter to people who seem on the verge of identifying my lifestyle as a pathology. When they complain about argumentum ab auctoritate, a simple "Fuck off" usually settles the discussion.
posted by fredludd at 1:31 AM on February 2 [1 favorite]


I mean, we can accept that reporting, and particularly reporting from the Western press about Jspan, has a strong tendecy to fixate on the sensational and alarming rather than present a balanced and nuanced view of any given subject, right? And we all know that when we make broad-brush generalizations about large groups of people, especially negative generalizations, we are likely to turn out to be embarassingly wrong when our views are put to the test?

There are people right here in this thread who are saying that in their own lived experience, this sort of thing can be complicated. There are people saying that they know folks whose hikkikomori children are easentially abusing them, and there are people saying that they can see how it's an understandable coping strategy, and there are people saying that they themselves are living as hermits or semi-hermits and that they are happiest that way. Some of the people saying those different things are even the same people!

So yes, I do think it's a little judgmental to take the BBC article at face value and conclude that hikkikomori as a whole group are shame-filled abusers living in prisons of their own making. No doubt many are, but no doubt it's also much more complicated than that. The BBC article does not present a very complex view, but as mentioned above the BBC is pretty orientalist about Japan. I tend to place more faith in the experiences and observations of my fellow mefites.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:02 AM on February 2 [4 favorites]


I don't think you're bad people, though. All of us are a little judgmental sometimes. I have no trouble agreeing that those hikkikomori who are more toward the "dependent & abusive" end of the spectrum are a real problem for those who care for them. I've known people who have been abused by those who they are taking care of, and I don't have much sympathy to spare for said abusers. It's ugly and frightening to witness.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:17 AM on February 2 [1 favorite]


I found these interviews with former hikikomori at nipppon.com compelling: 1, 2. (Thanks for the link JamesBay!)

Though I suppose it's possible that some hikikomori are happy with their lot, most seem to be stuck in a paralyzing shame spiral. I think it's worth reflecting on what makes that kind of shame spiral more likely (e.g., narrow definitions of success, difficulty finding work) and what helps with recovery (e.g., having a trusted person to talk with, having low-pressure opportunities to collaborate with others, feeling that one's life has intrinsic value), so we can try to steer society in a direction that doesn't result in people feeling so worthless that they retreat from all social interaction.

That might mean finding better ways to support the need for solitude and retreat. When life gets too overwhelming, it would be nice to have the option to leave it all behind and go live a very simple, monastic/reclusive life for a while, without feeling like a failure.
posted by Kilter at 9:57 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]


Sometimes I worry I am on my way to becoming one of these.

I live alone. Have no friends at work, or in town. My only close relations are people I know in other cities, who I’ve managed to stay in contact with; old friends.

On days where I do not work, I seldom leave the house. I’m sad all the time, and lonely.
posted by constantinescharity at 12:29 PM on February 2


That sounds terrible.

Speaking as someone in a similar position I’d like to say that a few hours of volunteer work each week makes a big difference for me. It gets me out of the house, I get to meet new people, and I get to feel like I’m part of the surrounding community. YMMV of course.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:11 PM on February 2


I do not think that people identified as hikikomori are at all happy about their situation. They are unable to participate in society. They are not "hermits". They are people who stay in their rooms because they are unable to interact with other human beings. They cannot support themselves. Even online freelancing is impossible.

They don't feel like they have a choice, and there are few routes for them to escape their condition.

While some may feel content, their families who must support certainly do not. No need to be equivocal here when there is no choice, and when other people are experiencing significant hardship.
posted by JamesBay at 9:42 PM on February 2 [2 favorites]


One of the few reasons I’m not trapped in my house is something my old primary care doc told me when I was fretting about taking medication for anxiety and depression: Maybe society has changed too quickly and our brains just aren’t evolved to cope with the kind of shit the world dumps on us.
posted by shorstenbach at 10:22 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]


Maybe society has changed too quickly and our brains just aren’t evolved to cope with the kind of shit the world dumps on us.

Amen.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:36 PM on February 3


(not that there was ever a guarantee of happiness for humans. Among other things all the contented humans sat around in the Rift Valley while our malcontent ancestors populated the rest of the world with their genes)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:40 PM on February 3


You gotta be nuts to live in Honolulu (my home) and stay inside.
posted by Droll Lord at 5:36 PM on February 3


That's what the backyard is for.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:41 PM on February 3


Here a mental health professional helps explain the hikikomori syndrome.
The author of this article explains that people are only considered hikikomori if they meet 3 qualifying criteria:

(1) Do not work or attend educational institutions.
2) Are not considered to have a mental disorder.
(3) Have remained at home for six months or longer without interacting personally with anyone outside their families.

So, remote workers and people who are considered to be mentally ill - including those with depression or anxiety issues - don't qualify for the label. Hikikomori a simply hermits - which is to say people who have made the choice to seal themselves off from society - perhaps as part of a process of healing or meditation.
posted by rongorongo at 10:45 PM on February 3


The article is about japan, but consider the united states: being Hikikomori here would be, for many people, much better than: being made homeless by your parents because you came out of the closet, or being put in jail or involuntarily committed in a hospital for mental illness. The parents of hikikomori may not be doing THE BEST thing for their kids, the kids may not be doing THE BEST thing as a coping strategy, but, i gotta say, whats the realistic alternate that society is offering.

I support make,better alternatives to Hikiomori people, just saying "but think of all you're missing" is unpersuasive.

Do I think hikikomori are happy, probably not. Would I trust a person who was happy with this world? Probably,not. We are in the bird-box world and the people with their eyes open and happy are dangerous lunatics, the rest of us are hiding or keeping our eyes closed and deluding ourselves.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 1:25 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


Or you can keep your eyes open and just try to make the best of things, approaching life with low expectations and a zeal for the absurd. There is happiness to be found.

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:03 PM on February 7


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