a year ago

Why thousands of Japanese stay isolated from the society?

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Representational image

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In Japan, there are usually two opposing viewpoints. It is both modern and traditional, busy and lonely. 

Restaurants and pubs are constantly filled, but if anyone looks closely, they'll see that most are packed with customers eating alone. And, no matter what time it is, they may encounter fatigued office workers on the streets, exhausted, heading nowhere. 

A few days earlier, this writer was talking to one of her friends Afridi who is currently staying in Kobe, Japan, to pursue his higher education. At one point in our conversation, he mentioned the Japanese word ‘Hikikomori’, which refers to acute social withdrawal from society and seeking extreme social isolation and confinement. 

Afridi, while staying in Japan, has often seen many people who never want to be a part of any social interactions and like to live in their own world. 

Hikikomori in Japanese is the nominalised stem of the verb hikikomoru, which means to withdraw into seclusion and is derived from: - hiki -- combining the stem of hiku, to remove oneself, komoru, to seclude oneself.

Half a million individuals in Japan are sequestered in their beds, unwilling to face the outside world. These modern-day hermits are referred to as hikikomori. 

The term has grown in popularity since Japanese psychologist Tamaki Sait initially used it in his 1998 book Social Withdrawal - Adolescence Without End. It was even described by the Oxford English Dictionary in 2010 as the 'abnormal avoidance of social interaction.' The Japanese government has been undertaking countrywide research to comprehend these peculiar phenomena since April 2018 thoroughly. It used to be restricted to young people, but it now affects Japanese culture. 

Many causes, including social anxiety, depression, academic pressure, and bullying, can cause hikikomori. It is frequently associated with other mental health problems like depression and anxiety disorders. 

Hikikomori ranges from persons who only leave their houses to shop for food or pursue hobbies to those who barely leave their homes. 

It is assumed that a big proportion of Hikikomori began to withdraw from mainstream society due to relationship problems or after losing or leaving their employment. Their sense of self-isolation has been increased by changes in lifestyle caused by the Covid epidemic.

The plight of modern-day hermits 

In today’s connected world, it can feel difficult to disengage. A never-ending stream of emails, postings, tweets, likes, comments, and photographs keeps us connected to modern life. 

A government poll identified around 541,000 (1.57% of the population), but many experts feel the figure is significantly higher because people sometimes wait years before seeking treatment. Many people feel that hikikomori is the outcome of how Japan views and deals with mental health concerns. 

The longer hikikomori retreat from society, the more conscious they become of their social failings. This might lead individuals to lose their confidence and self-esteem, making the idea of leaving home more difficult and daunting. 

Hikikomori may also be interpreted as a revolt as the country transitions from a communal to an individualistic culture, with younger generations more eager to express this. 

Japan's educational system, like the rest of East Asia, places a heavy premium on competitiveness and memorising facts and statistics for passing tests, with many students expected to attend university following high school. There is also the belief that modern technologies such as video games, the internet, and social media have impacted hikikomori. 

Many people no longer need to leave their homes because of contemporary technology, with most hikikomori being avid gamers. Although this may not always result in withdrawal, it can exacerbate it, making it more difficult for individuals to be interested in or wish to reintegrate into society.

Spillover around the world? 

Hikikomori is no longer just limited to Japan; in recent years, there have been several occurrences in Korea, America, and Italy. It is becoming a concern in family-centred civilisations where individuals remain with their parents far into their twenties. 

Some may never alter their ways, whilst others, with the correct help, may integrate back into society, strengthening their relationships with their family. It's similar to modern hermeticism. 

And, as in Japan, the global hikikomori community (an ironic name) has demonstrated that this condition can be overcome. Social isolation has far-reaching consequences that extend beyond the individual to their family.  

With hikikomori and more attention to loneliness, we are finally considering these difficulties as health issues. And that's a good thing.

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