Do you know what the term “hikikomori” means? When translated literally, it means ”one who stays indoors”. It is a relatively neutral meaning that has an incredibly negative connotation in Japan. A Japanese person who locks themselves up at home all day and actually fears going out in public and meeting people is the kind of person who this terminology is attributed to.
Although not based on any National data, there are an estimated 1,000,000 hikikomori in Japan. These people are usually men, in between the ages of 20 and 50. The average age is early 30s, and these men and women have serious socializing anxiety that prevents them from working and engaging in the outside world.
The reasons for becoming hikikomori are vast, and it usually starts after university is finished with most people, when they fail to find permanent, stable work, or they have a traumatic experience at work and quit. The pressure in Japan to conform is great, so when people fail to do so, they snap and recluse themselves to hide from the harsh reality of society.
The lifestyles of hikikomori, although sharing the common trend of spending most time indoors, can be pretty varied. Some live on their own and work from their home. Others are jobless and live with their parents, financially depending on them. Some hikikomori have been living that kind of lifestyle for a few months, others for over 20 years. The longer you live that kind of lifestyle, the harder it is to revert back into an accepted, normal member of society.
In Japan it is very easy to become a hikikomori. You can go the entire day without talking to anyone. Everything you need is just a few meters away in the nearest convenience store. You can order things online and have it delivered right to your door if needed. People are always busy with work so making friends is very difficult, and socializing can seem impossible sometimes. People also generally keep to themselves and don’t voice their emotions when they are struggling, so it can be extremely difficult to get help if needed. With these conditions one can see why hikikomori has become such a prevalent problem, and continues to grow.
I think every country has its own social problems, but in Japan nothing seems to be done about the hikikomori problem. There are a couple of private activist groups that work to help people who are struggling to get a foot out the door, but I think the trend will continue to grow if the issue of the societal structure that causes it is not addressed.