When the societal pressures for success become unbearable, over a million Japanese youth escape by confining themselves to their rooms.
This phenomenon has been referred to as Hikikomori. Hikikomori is seen as a culture-bound disorder and is characterised by similar traits to social anxiety and agoraphobia. However, it is a completely unique situation as the causes of this social withdrawal have to do with the individual’s inability to cope with Japan’s social pressures. Individuals have a fear of failure and a deep sense of shame accompanying that.
Hikikomori usually seclude themselves from society for 6 months or more without seeking work or socialising with others. Some have confined themselves to a room, playing video games and watching tv, for over 7 years. This is not due to laziness or choice. Sufferers usually want to have a purpose, to work or make friendships but feel unable to do so.
Often, parental expectations fall on a single male child which increases the child’s pressure to succeed as there is no other sibling that the parents can place their hopes onto. If a child feels unable to meet these expectations, they may shut down and withdraw to avoid the shame associated with failure. This issue is enabled by the fact that seeking help is seen as embarrassing in Japenese culture. Parents will often hide their child’s circumstance from others – in turn preventing them from ever getting any help.
With the right help and motivation, Hikikomori is treatable. One step at a time, an individual can be reconnected with society.