Media Mix, June 16, 2019

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the widespread anxiety surrounding social recluses. The column is mainly about the unfounded belief that hikikomori are potentially dangerous to themselves and others, and while experts do think that some hikikomori present with symptoms of mental illness, they very rarely manifest as violence. After all, the definition of a social recluse is someone who does almost everything in their power to avoid contact with others. And this obvious but strangely overlooked aspect of the issue points to another common feature of hikikomori that is rarely mentioned, namely, the socioeconomic situation of the families involved.

In almost all the hikikomori cases reported by the media, the subjects live in relative middle class comfort. They reside with parents or relatives who, for the most part, support them financially, often for years and even decades. Though there is no reason to think the poorer classes are immune to hikikomori tendencies, by definition it would be very difficult for someone to live completely off of a family that already exists on the economic margins. Most likely, individuals who are virulently antisocial and from poorer households will simply end up living by themselves in cheap apartments and never going out except to work, and so they can’t really be called hikikomori.

In other words, hikikomori live the way they do because they can. This may sound dismissive of their particular emotional and psychological situation, but, as mentioned at the end of the column, the kind of pathologies now being associated with hikikomori are more the result of the imposition of mandatory intramural responsibility. Families are expected, by society and the authorities through the legal system, to take care of their own. Hikikomori know this and so do their guardians. One of the main complaints from people who constitutionally resent hikikomori for what they see as outright laziness is that they’re simply taking advantage of their parents’ obligation toward them without owning up to their own obligations, but in a sense they are since eventually they will have to take care of their parents. In fact, they very well may be counting on it, because they will have to rely on whatever assets they inherit from their parents once those parents die. This is another social aspect that limits hikikomori to more well-off families. One of the conditions for receiving welfare in Japan is that the applicant first exhaust all possible assistance from family members. Those applicants’ children, parents, or siblings are thus obligated by law to help them, so if they don’t want to then they will be compelled to stay as far away from their families as possible. The best cure for hikikomori is probably poverty.

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