While perusing wikipedia and waiting for some paint to dry, I found this interesting article about a phenomenon in Japan that both fascinated me and scared me. This phenomenon is called “hikikomori” which basically means “acute social withdrawal” and is phenomenon (note that I am not using the words ‘mental disorder’ here) that is gaining some noteriety in Japan after a string of murders by school aged children (the oldest that I found was 17) that were committed in serial killer style.

What fascinated me about this, was how this disorder seemed to go hand in hand with the onset of the information age and the emphasis that the Japanese place on success in life, school and family. My research on this social issue revealed a connection between these two things that made perfect sense.

The children who are suffering from this disorder are often victims of extreme forms of bullying in schools and can’t cope with it or have failed to succeed in school in one form or another. Failing in school is tantamount to failing your family and failing your family is the ultimate form of shame. It’s a shame so deep that it’s difficult for those of us who did not grow up in that culture to even begin to grasp it.

The inability to face this shame, no matter what its form, is what causes these children to retreat into their bedrooms. This retreat into their rooms spawns guilt about their inability to leave their rooms and interact with their families and the internet helps these children become better able to cope with their disorder. Often, it seems that children with these disorders become violent over time and pose a threat to their families, themselves and, even though they are shut-ins, to society.

What’s most intriguing is that the parents of these children enable the disorder because the Japanese still don’t trust psychotherapy, and were they to trust psychotherapy, no one would ever know about it because it’s a borderline sin to admit that there might be something wrong in your family. So the families around the hikikomori let them remain in their rooms, provide for their “basic” needs, such as net access, cd’s movies, video games and game consoles, and periodically ask the child if he (90% of all known hikikomori are male) will come out, and when he says no, they walk away.

There is an American doctor studying the phenomenon who is absolutely flabbergasted that such a thing has happened because it is so foreign to western culture. Dr. Henry Grubb even said in one article, “If my child was inside that door, and I didn’t see him. I’d knock the door down and walk in.” Westerners as a general rule, will not allow their children to live in such seclusion. But many traditional Japanese teachings hold that there is nobility in solitude.

It’s a very interesting subject, and one worthy of your time if what I’ve had to say has interested you at all.

Wiki: Hikikomori

BBC Article on Hikikomori.