Now in sad autumn, I take my darkening path, a solitary bird. – Japanese poem, Basho
When you were a teenager, what did you do to rebel? Did you turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, or perhaps join a punk, emo, or goth subcultural group? Well in Japan, the youth are different. They completely withdraw from society – sometimes for decades.
Hikikomori: A Rising Phenomenon
Meet Mr. Mori, whose son has been in hiding for over 9 years. In this documentary, Mr. Mori explains how his son locked himself up a few weeks before his 20th birthday. And why? His father speculates that the causes are the social pressures and stresses of high school.
The most important thing is that Mr. Mori isn’t alone in his family’s struggles with Hikikomori.
According to statistics, about 1 million Japanese are Hikikomori, a word when translated means “withdrawal”. If true, that means about 1 percent of the population lives their lives alone, in their rooms. These people are typically male (about 80%) and in their early teens to late 20’s, living their lives unemployed, unskilled, passing their days web-surfing, TV watching and reading.
Crazy? Or Just Apathetic?
So what’s the deal with these people anyway? Dr. Tamaki Saito , a leading Hikikomori psychiatrist in Japan believes the problem of the ‘missing million’ is due to Japan’s history and society.
Post WWII years have brought immense urbanization and Americanization to Japan’s reserved and once slow-paced society. This means that economic competition and education have become much more vigorous and ruthless, with many Japanese families losing their father figures to the cut-throat world of business, placing increasing pressure on youth to live up to these grim social and economic standards.
Some people suggest that Hikikomori’s suffer from psychiatric disorders like social phobia or Asperger’s Syndrome. Others, like Michael Zielenziger, believe that:
[Hikikomori] cannot be diagnosed as schizophrenics or mental defectives. They are not depressives or psychotics; nor are they classic agoraphobics, who fear public places …
Instead, Japan’s mass of recluses is due to a social disorder.
The Consequence Of “Extrovert-Bombing” An Introverted Society?
Even by simple observation, the Japanese people are a quiet and dutiful race, bound by traditions, rules and a respect for elders.
The Japanese clearly embrace introversion, and a large quantity of their traditional poetry and music celebrates the nobility of solitude. If that isn’t a testimony to their introversion, look at Japan’s history. Until the mid-nineteenth century for instance, they cut themselves off from the external world for 200 years.
So, the question now stands: is extroversion the cause of Japan’s apathetic youth? You be the judge.