Now that you have the background from part 1 of this discussion, let's continue with my analysis of hikikomori after a couple years of reflection on my field work in Tokyo.
"Having done ten months of research at a Tokyo rehab center for hikikomori I can tell you that there is nothing “cool” about youth who are actual hikky.
First the media scare on “Dangerous hikikomori youth” back in 1999 and 2000 and the recent the pop culture depictions have really distorted and glorified the whole hikikomori phenomenon.
The reasons or trigger that caused a youth to become hikikomori vary. They can be like ghosts, staying up all night and sleeping by day or they can seem completely normal except they won’t look at a person face-to-face. It can be heartbreaking to be around hikikomori who are recovering as you can sense their frustration and desire to be normal but they are locked into patterns of behavior that avoid contact.
The thing is, the label “hikikomori” was originally about the behavior of acute social withdrawal by Japanese youth, not the causes of it. The reason why a lot of Japanese may say hikikomori are unique to Japan is because of the different way such behavior is viewed in Japan by everyday people. In western societies there is a tendency to label a troubled person by a clinical condition such as depression, aspergers, agoraphobia, schizophrenia and so on. If a doctor diagnoses such a condition the parent will seek care at a hospital and or a drug regimen. In contrast, a youth in Japan suffering from any of those conditions or even bullying or stress from school who avoids social interaction will be viewed as a hikikomori.
Also hikikomori is not a black and white “condition”, perfectly fine people, even adults, may lose a job or have hard times and slip into being a NEET and then into a hikikomori.
As I do research on the topic, I’ve been contacted by people from all over the world expressing concern over hikikomori in their own country, including South Korea, Italy and most recently Poland. Because the word “hikikomori” is now so high profile I think people self-identify with being hikikomori rather than seek help and see if perhaps they might have medical or psychological condition."
moritheil asked me to elaborate and, well, I did....overmuch perhaps:
"Yes, what I found at my research site is that the rehab staff in the 1980s were treating youth with similar patterns of social withdrawal, but at that time, the kids were being called “school refusals”, tôhôkyohi. The more I’ve looked into trying to pin down a definitive pattern/cause for a static label hikikomori the more its like quicksand.
Hikikomori is different things to everyday Japanese- something to be slightly afraid of; its something else to Japanese clinics- who are medicalizing youth identified as hikikomori; and it is something again to youth who may view themselves as hikikomori- stuck and cornered in society, they may feel that a social moratorium as they see in the popular media depiction of what it is to be “hikikomori” might be an answer to their problems. It goes without saying that the label hikikomori internationally has its own flavors and permutations.
Of course as a social scientist, I’m sure a clinical psychologist might disagree with my interpretation of the situation with hikikomori, but in my own research experience, I found that the causes for a person to “become” hikikomori can vary. Hikikomori causation is a complex issue and is really hard to say in any absolute way that 50% of all hikikomori are depressive, 30% are avoidance behaviors, etc. In fact the staff at the rehab center would argue that the reasons for each hikikomori undergoing treatment there were unique. Further as a researcher, its impossible to quantify for various reasons (ever try to conduct a survey on people who hide from sight?).
As I said, some people have genuine chronic medical issues while others might just be stressed and initially seeking escape from daily pressures and family expectations- but they can all fall under the umbrella term of hikikomori- if they avoid social contact for six months or more. And there is a reason why the discourse on hikikomori focuses on the final behavior of social seclusion as it is easier to observe and identify than what spurred someone to become hikikomori in the first place.
You ask what might “drive one to become hikikomori”. Assuming the individual is rational as you say, I have seen several common ones (for people w/o preexisting health disorders). Let me go back to the 1980s to make my next point. When school refusals were identified within health circles, there were a steady number of cases to be sure, but when it hit the mass media (TV, newspapers, etc) there was a large spike in “school refusals”. The same thing happened after 1999, 2000 for hikikomori as the media raised public awareness via several sensational stories like the Osaka bus hijacking. Back then however, hikikomori were frightening and seen as mentally ill by the public (read/watch the BBC’s “Missing Million” to see what I mean). Thus reflecting the “public aversion to hikikomori aversion” you mention at the end of your article. (You may want to look into Japanese attitudes on mental and physical disability to see more about why this occurs in Japan)
Now, with hikikomori in pop culture and woven into stories as both protagonist and peripheral characters, being hikikomori might seem like a viable option for some people who can’t handle the daily strain of life. Becoming hikikomori can seem a viable choice for some people- the media has made them aware that this option, being hikikomori, is out there and exists, other people suffer from this condition…maybe I do too. Some people make the label “hikikomori” their own and choose to be hikky. Now, this is only one part of the hikikomori “population” and perhaps only a small portion, but I think it is important to consider as they may be the most vocal part of the hikikomori population, the rest avoiding social contact.
Here’s the catch: once many people decide to socially withdraw, become hikikomori, for whatever reason, be it serious emotional trauma or whimsy, certain patterns of behavior begin to settle into their lives. For one, they socially stagnate and may become night owls. Second, their lack of face-to-face interaction may mean they start to over-think the rare times they are confronted with another person. They may be fine in isolation for weeks or months but eventually something happens and they become trapped in hikikomori patterns and not sure how to break those behaviors.
Think about sensory deprivation chambers or the concerns space agencies have about the extreme isolation of a physically and mentally healthy astronaut in a small capsule that takes months to get to Mars. Humans are social creatures. The separation from groups of people and regular daily interaction will have its effects on any person’s psyche- no matter what the original reason a person may have undergone isolation. For individuals with pre-existing health conditions, like depression. Well, it would seem it just further complicates their situation in social isolation as a hikikomori."