04 January 2005

Hikikomori are not Violent! Part I <p> During the holiday break, I was checking links to my blog, I have noticed that many who first across the topic of hikikomori hit upon the BBC report, “Japan's Missing Million” as well as other news items that came out in 2000 and 2001.... The term of 'hikikomori' in the public eye is inextricably intertwined with violent behavior, owing to the various high profile cases of violence and murder attributed to hikikomori in recent years.... The recent spate of media reports in the newspapers involving violent attacks attributed to hikikomori may be the primary reason for any public awareness of the social withdrawal problem. Japanese have come to attach 'hikikomori' to gruesomely violent incidents recently occurring in Japan, which only serves to further stigmatize the rest of the hikikomori: In 1988 and 1989 there was the “Otaku Murders” of Tsumoto Miyazaki. On May 3rd 2000, the hijacking of a bus in Saga Prefecture where the 17 year-old 'hikikomori' held a 6 year-old hostage. Another 17 year-old, in a dispute about a haircut, clubbed members of his high school baseball team with a baseball bat and later went home and killed his mother with the same weapon because she would not give him spending money. In 1990, a 27-year-old man kidnapped a 9-year old girl; the girl had lived in his room for 10 years—unknown by his mother or through her abject denial of the situation (Asahi Shimbun 2000, Larimer 2000, Rees 2002, Reuters 2001, Tolbert 2002).... In fact, many of the symptoms ascribed to hikikomori are not culturally unique to Japan or its education system at all, but rather fit the description of clinical depression found in other affluent media-saturated societies such the United States (Fox 2001).... the vast majority shut themselves up at home for six months or more without showing any other signs of neurological or psychiatric disorder“ (Tolbert 2002). </p>
Hikikomori are NOT Violent PART III: <p> 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.... 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.... 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, “ .... And despite these high visibility incidents attributed to shut-ins, some experts point out that violent outbursts by hikikomori ”are rare.... 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.... Sorry to rant so, but these two misconceptions about socially withdrawn youth in Japan really get under my skin. </p>

Michael Dziesinski

I'm a University of Hawaii PhD in Sociology discussing youth issues in Japanese society in this blog.

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