During the holiday break, I was checking links to my blog, I have noticed that many who first across the topic of hikikomori on the internet hit upon the BBC report, “Japan's Missing Million” as well as other news items that came out in 2000 and 2001.
I must admit that, among other things, the BBC report was one of the first articles that encouraged me to do research on hikikomori—but not for the reasons you might at first believe.
What drew me to the hikikomori topic is that something was fishy about the BBC report and those other news items by the western press stationed in Japan in 2000. There are two ‘facts’ on hikikomori that this BBC report and others in the western media appear to be simply regurgitating what was being said about hikikomori in the Japanese media of the time:
1) That hikikomori are violent.
2) That there are a vast number of young hermits, over one million, hiding in their rooms in Japan in a mounting crisis.
After my field research at Takeyama Gakkoh it became apparent that accepting both of these discursive beliefs on the issue of hikikomori, if not outright fallacies, are at face value very dangerous. To believe these two items as fact distorts the situation surrounding hikikomori and puts one at a great disadvantage when trying to understand what is really going on in Japan with it’s youth. And people, believing this hype, are less likely to venture forward to help these poor souls.
1) Associating violence with hikikomori is the fault of the mass media;
Violence and its shock value sells papers— aberrant cases of a FEW individuals who might have been classified hikikomori but were more likely mentally disturbed hit the headlines, from there the association between violence and social withdraw became forever linked in the minds of the Japanese public.
2) All of the reportage on 'Japan's missing million' in the various English language articles on the topic of Hikikomori cite the same source, one single person as the quote for this 1,000,000 statistic, that of Dr. Tamaki Saitoh. He is the very psychologist who 'coined' the word 'hikikomori' and subsequently made a career out of publishing one book after another on the topic.
As a researcher, I give him every benefit of the doubt and have spent two years of my life trying to verify his 'definition of 'hikikomori' through direct, in the field and on the ground, field research at a location that treats socially withdrawn 'hikikomori youths'.
However, after looking at statistics put out in the year 2000 by the Japanese Ministry of Health and Labor, the cynical side of me questions Dr. Saitoh's motivations for quoting such a large figure of one million as the number of hikikomori today in Japan. I have serious doubts that this is anywhere near an accurate accounting, as according to Ministry stats as well as other health officials, the population of hikikomori is probably closer to 50,000 young men—and even if you double that to include the number of young women being mis-identified as Parasite Singles, that's 100,000 Japanese youth. 1/10th of Saitoh's estimates and nowhere near the epidemic portrayed in the press!
[I'm not going to belabor the point too much more here. but if you want a detailed breakdown of the statistics, please download my research paper on the topic in PDF form. Discussion begins on page 8 of the paper dealing with the problem of the 'one million missing' estimate by Dr. Saitoh.]