As discussed in my previous post, here are two incorrect assumptions about hikikomori:
1) That hikikomori are violent.
2) That there are a vast number, one million, young hermits hiding in their rooms in Japan in a mounting crisis.
And yet, BOTH of these misrepresentations of violent hikikomori and being one million strong continue to float around the net and in the mass media.
I really wish that someone in the media would actually do some research rather than rehashing inaccurate statements on hikikomori made over five years ago.
Do you know why both of these fallacies continue to be propagated as discourse?
Because sensationalism sells so much better to put forth an idea. And lets be honest, youth who are secluded in their homes are hardly going to be able speak out against whatever the press decides to report about them. We have the roar of the information overload of the press on one side and an empty field with chirping crickets on the other. Whose side of the story are we going to hear the loudest ad nauseam?
What's in a name?
For the time being, let's assume that the hikikomori prognosis of social withdraw has a kernel of commonsense truth and condition is, in some respects, legitimate. By living within the assumed 'definition' of hikikomori it will allow an understanding of the mindset of those imposing the classification.
How many hikikomori did you say?
When the hikikomori problem was first widely publicized, demographics of hikikomori victims suggested it to be a youth based 'illness' which also appears to primarily afflict young males. Several media resources (Asahi Shimbun, BBC, Japan Times, et al.) were forwarding psychiatrist Tamaki Saito's theoretical estimates that between 500,000 to over 1,000,000 Japanese male youths aged fourteen to twenty years were suffering from the hikikomori condition as evidenced by their dropping out of active participation in society and sequestering themselves into the social safety of isolation in their rooms. According BBC's Phil Rees who uses Saito's estimates, one in ten Japanese youth today suffer from the hikikomori syndrome.
Media sources seem to be improperly analyzing the data and the scope of the problem, for if the variously quoted Saitoh statistics of 500,000 to 1.2 million male hikikomori shut-ins from the 14-20 age group is reasonably correct (Larimer 2001, Rees 2002, Secher 2002, Tolbert 2001), then the pervasiveness of hikikomori phenomenon in the Japanese population is disquieting.
Population census data collected by the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunication (2000) provides an illustrated population pyramid. Adding up all the males in the 14-20-age bracket elicits a total population of roughly 4.2 million males in that combined gender and age demographic in Japan. What this means, is if over 1 million Japanese aged 14-20 indeed suffer from being hikikomori, then 20 percent of all adolescent males in Japan, and approximately 1 percent of the population, are abstaining from participation in Japanese social institutions!
If Saitoh's number of 500,000 is even a remotely accurate appraisal, then Japanese society as a whole is in dire peril in the coming decades for as Saitoh points out:
“I think it is dangerous for Japanese society because such people never work or pay tax,” he said. “We might be able to rescue some, but half a million will stay withdrawn from society for 20 or 30 years. We could end up supporting them for half a century.” (Watts 2000)
If the outside observer were to accept Saitoh's assessment on the scope of the hikikomori problem in Japan today, it would mean that a notable proportion of the next generation of the Japanese workforce has already dropped out of the system and Japan can expect serious labor shortages as well as verging on a welfare state in order to support a half million non-productive members of society over the next fifty years.
May question to you, the reader of this blog, is does this socio-economic apocalypse of Japan as predicted by Saitoh sit right with you?
I sure have problems with it.
[Again, if you want a detailed argument on these two issues, please download my research paper on the topic in PDF form. ]