Hikikomori – Could Jessie Be Part of This Anti-social Society?

Can you imagine a life confined to your bedroom?

hikikiomoriHikikomori is the term for what was traditionally considered a Japanese phenomenon of social isolation. I’ve done a lot of reading about it after Jessie’s psychiatrist put it forward as a possible explanation for Jessie’s withdrawal from life. Hikikomori describes the occurrence itself as well as those who isolate themselves.

The term Hikikomori was first created by Japanese psychologist, Tamaki Saito*. He is considered around the world as the leading Hikikomori expert. 20 odd years ago he defined 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.” *(previous link)

20% of Japan’s males are believed to be hikikomori. Interestingly though, with Japan having a very high suicide rate amongst young men, the suicide rate in hikikomori is low. Maybe allowing them to live within their own boundaries, no matter how strange they may seem, takes the unbearable pressures away. Usually coming from middle class families, parents can afford to support their children through these times. Some people are stuck in it for decades and reaching their 30’s. This group call themselves NEET – Not in Education, Employment or Training. Oddly this term comes from England, so it seems to be borrowed terminology. Or is it simply that it has been seen in other countries with the same or similar variables?

I remember reading that distance education programs were setup in Japan in an attempt to accommodate those NEET. We are so lucky in Australia to have such a fantastic distance education scheme. Support is given to all it’s students.

In more recent times, researchers have come up with six affects required to diagnose hikikomori.

These are:

  • spending most of nearly every day confined to home,
  • noticeable and ongoing avoidance of social situations,
  • symptoms interfere significantly with the normal routine, work or school, or social activities and relationships,
  • perceiving the withdrawal as egosyntonic,
  • duration of six months or more,
  • no other mental disorder that accounts for the social isolation and avoidance.

The causes are not well known, but what seems to me contradictory to the last identifying factor of hikikomori, is that it is hypothesised to be on the autism and Asperger’s spectrum. Similarities have also been drawn to PTSD, avoidance personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder or social anxiety disorder.

Other hypothesised causes are social stresses, bullying and parental pressure for scholastic or financial success. In Japan these expectations are placed heavily on the shoulders of the first born son or the only child.


I’ve been unable to locate reliable statistics for recorded numbers of hikikomori in Australia. However I did come across this recent article by Bren Carruthers, member of the UMSU. He talks to an Australian reformed hikikomori and provides thought provoking content, well worth a read. I’d also be curious to hear about a longer term recluse and find out what helped them reform.

Jessie has been confined to her room for nearly 12 months, apart from our trips up north. Occasionally I can get her to come shopping with me, although she is usually in her room. She won’t come to her grandparent’s or uncle’s to visit, and hasn’t done all year.  Her love for them hasn’t changed, Jessie just doesn’t want to be too far from the darkness of her room. Even the things she used to love, like the pool and the beach, cannot entice her out.

She really has isolated from most everything that requires personal interaction. Jessie is lucky in that she has one friend with which she communicates daily. Most of all they are very close and very supportive of each other. They catch up for a sleepover here whenever they can. Jessie has her two subject lessons per day to complete.  However she also researches her bipolar and has an incredible awareness now of what’s going on with her. Some days she watches movies or her favourite TV series.  She also writes a lot, and has a good following on tumblr apparently. Her mind isn’t idle!

The signs are there for hikikomori. However Jessie’s pre-existing conditions could be linked to her societal isolation. Thankfully she hasn’t cut off from me and I hope she never will. We communicate openly which makes a strong bond. And if Nanna needs help with her website Jessie will come out to sit and help. Her self imposed isolation is quite extreme though, and sadly she doesn’t even want to celebrate Christmas this year. As a result it’s not going to feel the same without her.

These teenage years are difficult ones with many changes occurring in the brain. Consequently I can only hope for Jessie that as time goes on she will find enough peace to re-engage with society.


Each day is a new day, in which anything can happen!


6 thoughts on “Hikikomori – Could Jessie Be Part of This Anti-social Society?

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