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Why Are Japanese Men Refusing To Leave Their Rooms? 770

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-all-bright-and-annoying-outside dept.
fantomas writes "The BBC reports on the Japanese phenomenon of Hikikomori: young people, mainly men, who are holed up in rooms in their parents' houses, refusing to go out and engage with society. 'A conservative estimate of the number of people now affected is 200,000, but a 2010 survey for the Japanese Cabinet Office came back with a much higher figure - 700,000. Since sufferers are by definition hidden away, Saito himself places the figure higher still, at around one million. The average age of hikikomori also seems to have risen over the last two decades. Before it was 21 — now it is 32.' Why is this happening? And is it a global phenomenon or something purely due to Japanese culture? (We're all familiar with the standing slashdot joke of the geek in their mom's basement, for example.)"
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Why Are Japanese Men Refusing To Leave Their Rooms?

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  • Universe 25 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, 2013 @11:47AM (#44195115)

    Maybe they are the human versions of the "beautiful ones" from John Calhoun's mice experiments with overpopulation?

    • Re:Universe 25 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lobiusmoop (305328) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:21PM (#44195501) Homepage

      If I had mod points you'd get them. This is the kind of interesting stuff that keep me visiting /.

    • Re:Universe 25 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Graydyn Young (2835695) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:56PM (#44195851)
      The results of Universe 25 were pretty obviously the result of inbreeding, so.... let's hope not?
    • Re:Universe 25 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by interkin3tic (1469267) on Friday July 05, 2013 @01:19PM (#44196079)
      Few people would call Japan overpopulated. It's dense in Tokyo, and living spaces are traditionally small, but people aren't scrounging for food or trampling each other. The population is shrinking as well [telegraph.co.uk].

      Much simpler explanation: it's parents codling their sons. Says as much right in the summary: they live in their parent's house. You can't stay holed up in a single room unless you're being supported or have taken serious preparations. The parents are supporting the hermits and have been over sheltering of them to get them to that point. It's hardly a mystery. "Why are they refusing to leave their rooms?" Because they're weak and are being allowed to. Stop feeding them. They will find the strength within themselves to put on clothing and walk outside of their room.
      • Re: Universe 25 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, 2013 @01:48PM (#44196365)

        Nope it isn't uncommon for parents to try to drag their kids out. the kids well sometimes fight tooth and nail to stay in there. believe me, there is an INTENSE social pressure to live up to society's demands and the parents experience it as well as the kids. in fact I think it's these kids attempting to avoid this social pressure. Japanese culture is merciless to those who make mistakes or otherwise don't live up to the standards of society.

      • Few people would call Japan overpopulated.

        About ten times the population density of the USA, as an example.

        Of countries with >10 million people, it's the number seven in population density.

        Hmm, sounds overpopulated to me.

    • by MaizeMan (1076255) on Friday July 05, 2013 @01:29PM (#44196175) Homepage
      Fascinating analogy to research I was not previously familiar with. Would read comments by this AC in the future.
  • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Friday July 05, 2013 @11:48AM (#44195135) Homepage Journal

    It's the best fictional account of the issue I've seen.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, 2013 @11:49AM (#44195137)

    Duh.

  • Internet (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, 2013 @11:49AM (#44195147)

    The Internet can provide you with almost everything you need to survive. When people become disillusioned with life they get consumed by the Internet and find it more home than reality ever was.

    How do I know this? I am one of those people.

  • by gl4ss (559668) on Friday July 05, 2013 @11:50AM (#44195155) Homepage Journal

    it's a cultural thing involving japanese and their parents.

    I couldn't have holed up in my room if I wanted to, I would have been kicked out sooner or later, probably sooner - and after that if I wanted to hole up I would at least need a job to support that.

    practically they depend on the parents to arrange them food, but I wonder what % of these are actually able to pull in income? how active they are socially on the net?

    • by CastrTroy (595695) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:02PM (#44195303) Homepage
      While it's probably not just a Japanese thing, there's definitely a lot of something to do with the parent's allowing them to do this. I mean, it's one thing to live with your parents, but another story completely when you refuse to leave your room. I liken it to those people who end up being 800 lbs and bedridden. You don't get that way without somebody helping you out along the way. Usually it's a spouse or child that supplies these people with the buckets of fried chicken and gallons of soda that's needed to maintain such a high body weight.
    • by tnk1 (899206) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:08PM (#44195357)

      I've seen some situations where these shut-ins make money with online stuff. Usually it is low income, as you would expect, but some of them are actually accomplished traders or online gamblers. One or two are actually worth millions. Those are the exceptions, of course, but there are some things you can do to make money from a computer, if you never leave your room and never want to.

      They can also probably arrange for food deliveries as well, although I imagine that family support is there for most of these people.

      I'm not going to take a high ground against these people, I could understand how they might feel. Once I left home, I couldn't bear to return, but I think that I felt very strongly I needed to make a change like that in a way that I don't know if I would now.

      It is possible that these people missed out on that stage in your life when you have a strong biological motivation to change your situation from living with parents to living independently. I know that one big reason I wanted to get out was that it was significantly easier to attract, and then have a relationship with a woman when you weren't living at home.

      • by gallondr00nk (868673) on Friday July 05, 2013 @01:44PM (#44196327)

        I'm not going to take a high ground against these people, I could understand how they might feel.

        I have the same sympathy as the (thread!) parent. I feel in some ways we live in an age where traditional societal pressures about who one "should" be as an adult are deteriorating, and I'm personally glad for it. For some people of both sexes never moving out from under the wing of their parents and not engaging with society is something they would want themselves.

        It's easy to sneer and call them losers and say it's a societal issue, but at the end of the day who are they harming? I really don't see the problem.

      • Not all hikimori (to use the Japenese term) live with their parents. In Japan many hikimori actually go to the 'big city' (ie Tokyo in most cases) trying to get into university and when they fail some of become hikimori living on a stipend form their parents and not leaving their 1-room apartments.

        Especially in Japan, but also in other parts of the world, getting into the 'right' school can mean the difference between being 'somebody' and being 'average'. Lots of people are set up to fail if they cannot be 'somebody'.

    • by Nrrqshrr (1879148) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:21PM (#44195509)
      Well, am not the oldest guy around here, probably. But I think there is a growing tendency now for men/woman to spend their time/money on things other than "Socializing". Quite many of my friends spend their money collecting figurines or video games or whatever, and though they are interested and in need of meeting strangers and the other sex, they prefer to keep such interactions to a minimum and find the whole "mating ritual" too complicated. (I admit that my circle of friends is composed of rather like-minded individuals). Hell, there is an entire movement for this [mgtow.com], provided it deals more with the rejection of society's expectations.
      So yeah, I guess it's impossible for the people aforementioned to live as shut-ins because there is no financial support from their parents for this kind of lifestyle. But they simply evolved now and kept their social interactions (and interests) to the bare minimum.
      I imagine that if they had rich parents who allowed them to do anything, they would live as hikikomoris, but if those japanese shut-ins were forced to go out and work, they would still simply work and socialize to feed their own isolation, in their own little way.

      I actually tried understanding why they do what they do, and I was met with an interesting answer, "Why not?".
      • by TheDarkMaster (1292526) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:42PM (#44195727)
        The "mating ritual" is too complicated. Social relations too, especially when others are actually trying to eradicate you (you are mere a rival for then in the "get power and females" game). I, as example, have a job and my own house. But I do not have the slightest interest in socializing when seems to be no one worthwhile to attempt interact, and the actual females are too batshit-crazys to aproach.
        • There are female geeks out there that you would probably enjoy knowing. But internet-driven fantasies only include 'hot' women, fantasy women who require nothing socially or emotionally. As a female geek, I can tell you that generally women are welcome in the tech world, as long as they are hot and don't mind standing there in a tight sweater, watching admiringly while some guy makes the decisions.

          Why are so few women in IT? Possibly because the field in filled with young men who view women as either 'hot' or utterly invisible.
          • by TheDarkMaster (1292526) on Friday July 05, 2013 @02:40PM (#44196907)
            GASP! A... actual, real, female geek? Just one minute please, running my reality check here, I may really just dreaming about be here writting on ./

            Okay, now a detailed explanation about my opinion above:

            1) I are not, in any means, the "default guy". And this is like a "social death sentence" on my city. I are not rich, not powerfull, not beaultiful. ergo, I are a "outcast" for the average woman;

            2) I tried the "social game", I really would like to have friends and girlfriend and in a good way (no "macho" man). But, soon I figured that either you become this despicable "macho" man or nobody will want to know about me. And, I preffer to do not be that;

            3) The average woman, trust me, is know to says "A" but actually want "B", and maybe does "C". Of course not all are like that, but so far I have not found one out of this pattern, and I searched a lot;

            4) Finally, I REALLY do NOT like confusions. If a woman says "no" I'm leaving, even though she was actually saying the opposite (who said that the "mating ritual" is simple?). Because I do not want to pass in any way by the hassle of having to deal with an enraged woman.

            In short? I just weighed all variables obtained over time and came to the conclusion that in the end is not worth it.
          • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Friday July 05, 2013 @03:13PM (#44197303)

            Possibly because the field in filled with young men who view women as either 'hot' or utterly invisible.

            Women also view men as either 'hot/cute' or utterly invisible. Welcome to the human race. And as someone who has lived in a number of different cultures let me assure you that this phenomenon is quite cross-cultural as well. Although I have noticed that American women are at least somewhat more obsessed with looks than in some of the other cultures where I've lived. I'd say the biggest difference is that women are more prone to lie about this. Men tend to be more open and honest about it.

      • by AmazingRuss (555076) on Friday July 05, 2013 @01:59PM (#44196479)

        I think what's happening is that people find more interesting conversations on the internet than they can find among the people around them, and it makes the people around them far less interesting by comparison. I honestly don't know anybody besides my wife in meatspace that I would have a conversation with out of anything but politeness. Almost everybody simply regurgitates what they see on cable TV, or talks about their offspring.

  • Sounds like my kid (Score:3, Interesting)

    by russbutton (675993) <russ.russbutton@com> on Friday July 05, 2013 @11:50AM (#44195159) Homepage
    Hikikomori huh? Average age of 32?! Oh God... And I thought it was bad with my 20 year old sitting on his butt surfing the web and playing video games. His greatest professional accomplishments are getting his GED and getting an interview at Starbucks (he didn't get the job). That's it.
    • by SirGarlon (845873) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:01PM (#44195295)
      It sounds like your kid may need some help as well. Nobody wants to be a loser -- if he sits around all day, it could be a sign of depression or anxiety. If you have health insurance, it probably covers screening and treatment for conditions like that.
      • by russbutton (675993) <russ.russbutton@com> on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:17PM (#44195477) Homepage
        He is mildly autistic, with anxiety being a part of it. He completely lacks initiative and ambition. He's always been largely indifferent.

        Kicking him in the butt only makes him curl up into a little ball. I've tried both positive and negative motivations and there are no external means that seem to work.

        The question was asked if he ever got tired of having no money. That is beginning to motivate him a bit. When the motivation is *HIS* idea, then he acts. That's how he ended up getting the Starbucks interview. I've asked the relations to NOT give him money on his birthday and Christmas, which they have agreed to. Now all he gets is birthday cards and is learning that those two days a year are no longer paydays.

        One of his autistic qualities is an almost complete lack of common sense. Really. He is slowly maturing and seems to continue to progress, but at some point, he may become unemployable. My worst nightmare.

        • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:36PM (#44195683) Homepage

          Vitamin D deficiency related to depression can be a downward spiral if people then spend more and more time indoors, like in Japan. See my many posts on halth issues and autism including about Mark Hyman and mitochondrial dysfunction and John Cannell. Also look into unschooling for interest-lead learning.

          Search also on "The Pleasure Trap" and "Supernormal Stimuli" and "The Acceleration of Addiction" for the pitfalls of 21st century living.

          And, from a positive psychology point of view, try to help him build on his strengths, whatever those are.

          Politically, lobby for a "basic income" for all. The fact is, most of us will soon be "unemployable" relative to AI, robotics, and other automation (see Marshall Brain), breaking the income-through jobs link that previously undergird the right to consume.

          Sounds like a tough situation though. Good luck. Your son is lucky to have a caring involved father like you!

        • by TheDarkMaster (1292526) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:51PM (#44195803)
          The problem with "common sense" (or even better, social common sense) is that for an autistic (or asperger like me) that needs to be taught. And nobody realizes it because everyone automagically all born knowing it (because they are not autistic). Teach to your child social common sense he will learn, do not expect him to know alone.
    • by some old guy (674482) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:01PM (#44195299)

      I hear ya. I had a 26 year old step-daughter who did get a the job at Starbucks...and got fired for bad attendance within the month. Back to Facebook and Angry Birds, full-time.

      Funny, a week after I booted her useless ass out she had a new job at a book store, and within the month had graduated from couch surfing to her own cozy efficiency.

      Parents shouldn't whine about their sweet, precious babies laying around their house. They need to put a boot in their ass.

      • by rsilvergun (571051) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:48PM (#44195769)
        or very personable and good looking (which, since that's mostly genetics & upbringing is a kind of luck). Starbucks and bookstores are (relatively) cozy jobs. They also pay very marginally above minimum wage. Let's say she wound up at Walmart working 25 to 30 hours a week with the constant threat of firing if she didn't both stock the shelves _and_ run a cash register. Or how about an Amazon warehouse (Google it, awful, awful places to work). I don't think she'd be so cozy....

        This is the worst economy in 50 years. Outsourcing and H1-Bs have depressed wages heavily. Whether you recognize it or not your daughter has far fewer opportunities than you did. Google "wealth inequity" for a start on that topic and add 'wage surpression' and 'Union Busting' (with a side of Walmart or McDonald's) too.

        The hard part here is that you obviously care for your daughter, and so you want to have strong pride in her. You don't want to imagine that she can't overcome the challenges she faces. So you'll tell yourself it's enough to just boot her out and leave it at that, taking a sink or swim approach that ignore the polluted, radioactive water she's swimming in...
        • by Shark (78448)

          What you refer to are symptoms more than causes. What is killing the economy is mostly the enormous barriers to wealth creation that the average individual (not the already super-rich) faces.

          The clear path to prosperity in America used to be to start and run your own business (or help in doing so). There are enormous hindrances to doing such nowadays mainly rooted in the state. In most fields just meeting regulations for your businesses is cost-prohibitive, as is hiring people to help you run that busine

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865)

      I had to walk away from a conversation with a twenty-seven year old a couple weeks ago, because he wouldn't shut up about how hard it was to find a job and how expensive an apartment was and this was why he was still living with his parents and primarily on their dime . . . at almost thirty. Sadly, this doesn't seem to be uncommon at all - especially in people from teens to twenties these days.

      When I was a kid, in the 90s, the expectation was that you were out of the house by the age of 18. You're an adult

      • by Hatta (162192) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:42PM (#44195729) Journal

        Comparing the 2010s to the 1990s isn't fair. The economy was booming, and we still had a middle class. We just went through the biggest recession since the great depression, and the benefits of recovery have accrued entirely to the rich. There's a reason why they call it a "jobless recovery".

        Kids may or may not be softer than they were when we were their age. But it's definitely harder out there.

        • I began working in the early 2000s. I can attest that things were much easier. I got my first job programming because someone needed and entry level programmer and heard I liked programming. No one gives this generation of kids that sort of break anymore.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, 2013 @11:55AM (#44195225)

    Why is everyone expecting that everyone wants to socialise???
    Seriously. There are so many assholes out there in the meat space, sometimes even more than on Reddit or YouTube comments. So many stupid, brain dead people. So many judging people judging others for superficial stuff.

    I'm asexual, rarely meet people who interest me and share my hobbies and my interests.
    Movies are all shit nowadays. So why should I socialise more than the minimum (food shopping, deliveries/postal service) ???

    • by LikwidCirkel (1542097) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:03PM (#44195311)
      This isn't just about socializing. It's about working outside the home, being able to cook for yourself, doing your own laundry, doing your own shopping, etc. These adult kids are capable of none of these things.

      Being an introvert is one thing. Being unwilling to do what's necessary to survive independently is another thing altogether.
  • Averages (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lorens (597774) on Friday July 05, 2013 @11:58AM (#44195245) Journal

    So in 20 years, the average age went up by 11 years. That probably simply means that living in your mom's basement is not immediately dangerous to your health.

  • by wcrowe (94389) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:06PM (#44195341)

    I don't know about Japan, but it used to be usual in Thailand for young men to be ordained as Buddhist monks, and live a life apart from the mainstream for at least a few months, or a year or two. With the rise of consumerism in Thailand this practice is starting to die away.

    In other cultures young men go off for a time to live a cloistered or semi-cloistered life. Even a two or three year stint in the military might qualify. It's not completely cut off from society, but you do live a more spartan existence, in a somewhat separate world with its own rules and protocols, and with lots of time to reflect on what you really want to do with your life.

    It could be that hikikomori in Japan is evidence of a need in young men to go off and "find themselves", or whatever. As our increasingly secular, consumerist culture removes other cloistered avenues previously found in religion, military, or school, there may be no option left but to hole up in one's room.

    I have nothing to support any of the above, it's just a hunch.

     

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:10PM (#44195383)
    ...as well. From descriptions of a college roommate well before the upswing in this phenomenon, real estate is extraordinarily expensive in Japan, to the degree that mortgage loans are often multi-generational. Combine this with Japan's long-stagnant economy, and it isn't too surprising the actual living in the homes is becoming increasingly multi-generational as well. Particularly if the internet provides an enticing alternative to moving out.
  • by Roger Wilcox (776904) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:16PM (#44195463)

    This is really about porn and video games... these two things can by themselves provide the brain with enough entertainment, reward, and pleasure to make the real world unnecessary.

    First, there is a trauma: he fails to live up to parents expectations regarding education or career, has a heartbreak, loses his job, or whatever. Then he consoles himself with porn and video games. They feel good and he doesn't have to worry about his problems for a little while. If this goes on for long enough and he doesn't receive the right kind of social support, he may become addicted to both and lose the drive to do anything else.

    What really happens is he becomes trapped by the dopamine pathways (reward system) in his brain. He is incapacitated by fear and social anxiety when dealing with others because his brain's reward system has been overpowered by the artificial stimulation of porn and video games. The dopamine normally produced by his brain during social interactions doesn't have nature's intended positive reinforcement effects for him because his dopamine tolerance is so high thanks to his addictions.

    He becomes further and further withdrawn and does the only thing he knows how to do to feel "normal:" feed his addiction.

    This has become a serious issue for young men in other parts of the world as well. It is ultimately made possible by technology, in particular the Internet.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Poppycock.

      This is the kind of pseudo-scientific dribble that sends Chinese youth to "correctional" camps for "addiction".

      Perhaps the reason a lot of Japanese men are living at home is because the economy has been flat since the 90s.

      Conjecture is pointless without a basis in fact.

    • by kick6 (1081615) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:55PM (#44195843) Homepage

      This is really about porn and video games... these two things can by themselves provide the brain with enough entertainment, reward, and pleasure to make the real world unnecessary.

      First, there is a trauma: he fails to live up to parents expectations regarding education or career, has a heartbreak, loses his job, or whatever. Then he consoles himself with porn and video games. They feel good and he doesn't have to worry about his problems for a little while. If this goes on for long enough and he doesn't receive the right kind of social support, he may become addicted to both and lose the drive to do anything else.

      What really happens is he becomes trapped by the dopamine pathways (reward system) in his brain. He is incapacitated by fear and social anxiety when dealing with others because his brain's reward system has been overpowered by the artificial stimulation of porn and video games. The dopamine normally produced by his brain during social interactions doesn't have nature's intended positive reinforcement effects for him because his dopamine tolerance is so high thanks to his addictions.

      He becomes further and further withdrawn and does the only thing he knows how to do to feel "normal:" feed his addiction.

      This has become a serious issue for young men in other parts of the world as well. It is ultimately made possible by technology, in particular the Internet.

      What if, instead of it being an "addiction" involving "dopamine pathways" its something far simpler: a logic choice that society sucks ass, offers nothing to them, and isn't worth participating in. This dovetails quite nicely with another japanese problem quaintly called shoshoku danshi (herbivores): A group of men who managed to make it out of their parent's houses but choose to live in inexpensive apartments, not succeed financially, and don't bother to date. They just simply "graze."

      All the same symptoms, none of the mental disorder boogeyman.

  • by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:21PM (#44195505)
    I've traveled some in various parts of Asia and Europe. I'm American, so keep that in mind. I've learned the following a long time ago.

    1) A lot of things get invented first or just happen first in Asia, particularly Japan. So it's a great window into what to expect tomorrow in the West before it actually gets there.
    2) South Korea and Japan seem to have bee hotspots for years of bizarre, anti-social behavior. When they're not committing suicide.
    3) I have the impression as an observer (so I have no facts and could be wrong about this) that citizens in Asia in general get less mental help to deal with problems. Possibly there's a cultural reason for this.
    4) The internet and various game systems have made it possible for young people to interact from a distance without ever having to leave their rooms.
    5) This is going to be a problem in the USA too soon enough. It's just not happening in great enough numbers yet.
  • by hawguy (1600213) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:31PM (#44195651)

    I blame the Girlfriend Pillow [google.com]. With parents to supply food, an internet connection, and one (or more) of those pillows, what reason is there to go out?

  • by OldSport (2677879) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:40PM (#44195707)

    Based on what I saw during my 10+ years living there, I'd say it's the realities of modern life clashing with the traditional culture. Japan is a collectivist society; before the Internet came along, if you were deviant/antisocial/etc. (for lack of better terms) you had to suppress that side of you and fit in. However, the Internet opened up a virtual environment where individualism could flourish more; people found an outlet, and even support, for their antisocial tendencies, and little by little it became a lot more comfortable to "live online" than actually having to put up with the social pressures of real life. (Westerners have a tough time understanding the amount of social pressure; even I am still sometimes surprised by the hoops my Japanese wife's family members jump through in order to "keep up appearances".)

    Add to this the traditional tendency for extended families to live together into adulthood and you have the perfect recipe for hikikomori: a virtual social life where you are free from judgment and pressure to fit in, and no need to work to fulfill your basic needs of food and shelter. Not the life that I want, but I understand it, anyway.

  • by blahbooboo (839709) on Friday July 05, 2013 @01:40PM (#44196281)

    Rajesh Koothrappali: Come on, Sheldon. The world is filled with people doing things outside; let's go outside. Outside is good.

    Sheldon Cooper: If outside is so good, why has mankind spent thousands of years trying to perfect inside?

    Rajesh Koothrappali: I don't know. It's a marketing scheme.

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