Hikikomori (ひきこもり or 引き籠もり Hikikomori?, literally “pulling inward, being confined”, i.e., “acute social withdrawal“) is a Japanese term to refer to the phenomenon of reclusive adolescents or young adults who withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement. The term hikikomori refers to both the sociological phenomenon in general as well as to people belonging to this societal group.
The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare defines hikikomori as people who refuse to leave their house and, thus, isolate themselves from society in their homes for a period exceeding six months. The psychiatrist Tamaki Saitō defines hikikomori as “A state that has become a problem by the late twenties, that involves cooping oneself up in one’s own home and not participating in society for six months or longer, but that does not seem to have another psychological problem as its principal source.” More recently, researchers have suggested six specific criteria required to “diagnose” hikikomori: 1) spending most of the day and nearly every day confined to home, 2) marked and persistent avoidance of social situations, 3) symptoms interfering significantly with the person’s normal routine, occupational (or academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, 4) perceiving the withdrawal as ego-syntonic, 5) duration at least six months, and 6) no other mental disorder that accounts for the social withdrawal and avoidance.
While the degree of the phenomenon varies on an individual basis, in the most extreme cases, some people remain in isolation for years or even decades. Often hikikomori start out as school refusals, or futōkō (不登校) in Japanese (an older term istōkōkyohi (登校拒否)). The Ministry of Health estimates that about 3,600,000 hikikomori live in Japan, about one third of whom are aged 30 and older.
The Anatomy of Dependence (甘えの構造 Amae no kōzō?) is a non-fiction book written by Japanese psychoanalyst Takeo Doi which describes at length Doi’s concept of amae, which he describes as a uniquely Japanese need to be in good favor with, and be able to depend on, the people around oneself. He likens this to behaving childishly in the assumption that parents will indulge you (Doi 2001:16), and claims that the ideal relationship is that of the parent-child, and all other relationships should strive for this degree of closeness (Doi 2001:39).
A young Japanese hacker from Tokyo named Naomi moves to New York, but then has to return for an experimental eye operation. She becomes friends with an attractive office lady called Izumi, and together they take Tokyo by storm. This does not last long and she finds herself resorting to old ways and starts illegally hacking. She is quickly swept up into a world she knows nothing of, a world of fear and crime, as one determined Hikikomori targets her, forcing her along a dangerous path, which puts herself, her family and her new best friend at grave risk.
Is Amae the Key to Understanding Japanese Culture?