21 April 2005

Q & A Series PT III: Religious Influences on Internet Suicide Pacts and the Hikikomori <p> Michael Dziesinski -------------------- E's Question: Do you see any religious influences, or a lack thereof in this phenomenon (hikikomori and suicide)? My Answer: The ‘komori’ part of the word ‘hikikomori’ is taken from the verb ‘komoru’ which means ‘to retire’, ‘to go into retreat’, and is a reference to the old practice by Buddhist monks of going into retreat to find their inner selves. Psychologist Saito Tamaki coined this word for acute social withdraw about seven years ago, so any linkage there with actual Buddhist practice is dubious at best. To be honest, in my years of living in Japan and even meeting and interacting with Buddhist and Shinto clergy, I never got the sense of overt religious influence in Japanese life on a spiritual level for most people. Oh, there was a few that I did meet with whom I was absolutely stunned by their religiosity, Mount Koya comes to mind, but on the whole, the personal impression I get is that religion in the western sense of the term does not apply to Japanese daily life. ‘Religious influence’ in Japanese life seems to operate at a purely functional level— Shinto ceremonies for births and weddings, Buddhist for funerals and memorials, and festivals throughout the year that are remembrances of the ‘old days’ as much as commercial events. On the other hand, it would not be fair to conclude that the lack of ‘strong faith’ is cause for these social problems. In some ways, the social cohesion of the group, amae, on/giri and various other aspects of Japanese culture would appear to make unnecessary the need for the unifying sense of community and self-defining role that religion serves in the west.... Until that time, most Japanese people are comfortably nested in a definition of self-identity based upon the interrelationships with those in-groups and out-groups around them. </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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