Public attention to the previously hidden hikikomori problem is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Bringing public attention to social withdraw in Japan has been a mixed blessing according to those I interviewed at Takeyama Gakkoh.
Several of the senior staffers, who have been doing their job for almost two decades, say that they began to get their first cases more than ten years ago—long before it was called 'hikikomori' in 1998 or there about. Back then, social withdraw was a problem within families.
In fact, some of the Takeyama staff believe that social withdraw is nothing new and may go back fifty years into Japan’s past (probably coinciding with the pressures of the Post WWII school system put in place in Japan during the occupation). It wasn't until Dr. Tamaki Saitoh coined the word ‘hikikomori’ and the ensuing media frenzy that things changed dramatically for the socially withdrawn youth and the families of these children; before then, the public had no idea, but after 'hikikomori' became a household word, parents of hikikomori children became ashamed of their children and sought to hide them from public scrutiny. Perhaps letting the problem fester in the home longer than they would have years previous.
If the spate of violence by so-called 'hikikomori' could be attributed to anything in the years immediately after the new high profile of the 'hikikomori' issue, it might be blamed on the fact that parents were too ashamed to come forward and seek help for their socially withdrawn child due to all of the new publicity attached to the phenomenon. And so, tensions within such families reached a boiling point and sometimes escalated into physical confrontations between parent and child.
According to one leader in the hikikomori support industry, a Mr. Sadatsugu Kudo, who deals with these youth on a daily basis and who runs Tame Juku for socially withdrawn children in Tokyo, believes that it is erroneous for people to associate the hikikomori phenomenon with cases of crime or mental illness, “ . . . true hikikomori by definition do not have the wherewithal to venture into the world to commit crime”. And despite these high visibility incidents attributed to shut-ins, some experts point out that violent outbursts by hikikomori “are rare. Hikikomori are more likely to suffer from lethargy or suicidal depression”.
My field observations agree with these conclusions. The only aggressive behavior I EVER observed at Takeyama Gakkoh was very late at light, like two or three in the morning, where a socially withdrawn student would pound their fist or foot on the wall or floor for a stretch of time. This I view as a cry for help or frustration at their predicament, not some urge to 'hurt someone'.
Sorry to rant so, but these two misconceptions about socially withdrawn youth in Japan really get under my skin.
Hikikomori are not violent and it is highly doubtful they are one million strong.
[Again, if you want a detailed argument on these issues, please download my research paper on the topic in PDF form. ]