Communities shouldn’t Isolate These Individuals and Their Families

A serious problem facing society today is the people who are hikikomori social recluses, regardless of gender or age. It is important to support such individuals and their families so that they are not isolated in their local communities.

The Cabinet Office has released the results of a survey that found that an estimated 1.46 million Japanese people ages 15-64 are in a state of hikikomori, a condition in which they have little interaction with the outside world.

For the first time, this survey covered a wide range of ages, from youths to the middle-aged and older people. The reason for this is that, although hikikomori was once considered a problem among youths, it is now noticeably prolonged, and the people are aging.

According to the survey results, about 2% of both young and middle-aged and older people are considered to be hikikomori. Until now, the image of male hikikomori has been prevalent, but there are many women as well, with females making up 52.3% of the 40-64 age bracket of hikikomori people.

The 1.46 million is an estimate, and there is also the possibility that the actual number could be much higher. Not only hikikomori individuals, but also their family members are experiencing difficulties.

Not attending school, resigning from jobs and stumbling among poor personal relationships stand out as the main reasons for becoming a hikikomori. Some cited the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason.

The hikikomori condition tends to be dismissed just as a matter of self-responsibility. However, if many people remain out of school or unemployed, the social loss is great and cannot be dismissed as a personal problem.

In recent years the “8050 problem” in which elderly parents support their middle-aged hikikomori children has become a societal issue. The problem becomes even more serious as the children will become impoverished after the death of their parents.

There has been no end to cases in which the bodies of deceased parents are left as is at home and those who have withdrawn from society are accused of abandoning the bodies. There have also been cases of murders between parents and their children involving social withdrawal. These tragedies are the result of the isolation of families from society and are painful to the extreme.

There is also the problem of malicious operators who take advantage of parents’ weakness and demand high fees to forcibly drag hikikomori people from their homes. Such forceful methods further aggravate the psychological damage to hikikomori people. It is necessary to avoid responding to the issue without regard to individual wishes.

The key to getting hikikomori people accustomed to being in contact with the outside world is to create a place for them to spend some time in a community. For younger generations who are familiar with the internet, holding online social gatherings may be effective.

Even when hikikomori people wish to work, it will be difficult to do so if there is no place to work. Now that telecommuting has spread due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is advisable for companies to consider creating work opportunities using the internet.

It is hoped that the central and local governments and the private sector will work together to create opportunities for hikikomori people to reintegrate into society.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 23, 2023)