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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

January 24, 2006

Written by C.N.

Withdrawaling from Society in Japan

The New York Times has an article that describes an emerging phenomenon in many Asian countries, but particularly prominent in Japan — hikikomori — or withdrawaling oneself from any social interaction and shutting oneself in one’s house for months or even years on end:

Some hikikomori do occasionally emerge from their rooms for meals with their parents, late-night runs to convenience stores or, in Takeshi’s case, once-a-month trips to buy CD’s. And though female hikikomori exist and may be undercounted, experts estimate that about 80 percent of the hikikomori are male, some as young as 13 or 14 and some who live in their rooms for 15 years or more.

South Korea and Taiwan have reported a scattering of hikikomori, and isolated cases may have always existed in Japan. But only in the last decade and only in Japan has hikikomori become a social phenomenon. Like anorexia, which has been largely limited to Western cultures, hikikomori is a culturebound syndrome that thrives in one particular country during a particular moment in its history.

As the problem has become more widespread in Japan, an industry has sprung up around it. There are support groups for parents, psychologists who specialize in it (including one who counsels shut-ins via the Internet) and several halfway programs like New Start, offering dorms and job training.

For all the attention, though, hikikomori remains confounding. The Japanese public has blamed everything from smothering mothers to absent, overworked fathers, from school bullying to the lackluster economy, from academic pressure to video games.

The article goes on to emphasize the economic factors and pressures to be economically successful that may lead to hikikomori — how many Japanese feel that their value as a Japanese society is entirely dependent on their academic and job/ salary achievements and how that leads to an overwhelming sense of anxiety, alienation, and/or rejection of such prevailing norms.

The article also stresses that Japanese parents may be a primary contributor to the problem by first putting too much pressure on the child, along with not giving him enough affection and validation, then being too lax in allowing this phenomenon to go unaddressed.

Whatever the causes are, it’s a pretty sad phenomenon. Plus it does not bode well for Japan’s future. The article implies that the causes result from norms and customs that are fundamental embedded into the fabric of Japanese society and that are now clashing with postindustrial and globalized 21st century reality. In other words, don’t be surprised if this hikikomori phenomenon gets worse before it gets better.

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Withdrawaling from Society in Japan" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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