Invasion of the Loners

I learned a new word recently.  Hikikomori.  No, it’s not an ancient Japanese martial art or tea drinking ritual but a social phenomenon that began in Japan and is spreading around the world.  The Japanese government’s official definition of hikikomori is people who haven’t left their homes or interacted with others for at least six months. It seems to be more of a problem with young middle class males but can affect any gender or age group.  Young Japanese gradually retreat from society, abandoning relationships and career to remain in the parental home, hardly ever going out. Although some hikikomoris may have underlying mental health issues such as depression or anxiety the condition is believed to be cultural in origin.

According to Japanese government figures in 2010 there were 700,000 people affected by this ‘social disorder’ and it has increased to well over a million today.  Hikikomoris are modern-day Hermits and it seems to be contagious.  There are similar reports from Europe, India and the US.  Experts believe the trend is stronger in Japan because of the immense pressures experienced by teenagers in the competitive education system and jobs market.  There is huge pressure to succeed, make money and conform to social expectations.  There is little space for individualism or creativity in the Japanese cauldron of intense capitalism.  So unless society loosens up and allows its citizens space to breath, explore their potential and have time to actually LIVE, this problem may well increase.

If more and more people shut themselves away and stop participating in society then who will maintain an ordered, economically viable country?  Societies could self-destruct unless we start putting human values before those of so-called economic progress.  Surely, we make money in order to live, not the other way round.

Another interesting piece of research according to Michael Zielenziger’s book, Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation, the syndrome is closely related to post-traumatic stress disorder.  Many of those affected had experienced bullying and were shy and introspective.  The author claimed that hikikomoris were highly intelligent having discovered independent thinking and a sense of self that the current Japanese culture could not accommodate.

So hermits taking over the world might not be such a bad thing after all.  Perhaps they will create a revolution, a new world where we do not live like brainwashed ants, servants to a soul-less State.

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