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Why Are Japanese Men Refusing To Leave Their Rooms? 770

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?

  • 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?

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

    by russbutton ( 675993 ) < minus caffeine> 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 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 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.

  • Hoarder gene? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:09PM (#44195371)

    The picture on the BBC site immediately reminded me of a FOAF who is Japanese, raised in SoCal so there is no cultural issue. He's a hoarder. Maybe there's a hoarder gene tied to the recluse gene. Of course this is an anecdote, not data. He also has the "can't drink very much alcohol" gene. Maybe they stay inside to avoid getting sick at parties where Japanese men are required to drink even though they know 50% of the population can't stomach booze.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:10PM (#44195383) 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.

  • by russbutton ( 675993 ) < minus caffeine> 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.

  • Re:My son... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by starfishsystems ( 834319 ) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:22PM (#44195527) Homepage
    This is developmentally very common in teenage boys. Although the privileges of adulthood beckon, so do the risks and expectations and responsibilities. With their hormones at war, and facing complex social pressures even within their peer group, boys can feel overwhelmed. It's easier just to hide away until the storm passes.

    I wonder whether the "walkabout" rituals in aboriginal cultures aren't specifically intended to address this phenomenon. According to Joseph Campbell, the ritual often involves a scene in which the men of the community theatrically come to capture the boy and drag him away. He instinctively hides or runs to his mother for protection, but theatrically she is unable to protect him. So off he goes to make the terrifying and irreversible transition to adulthood.

    What happens in modern urban cultures where we don't have any such ritual, indeed where the transition to adulthood is deferred until graduation from university or is completely indefinite? The status quo psychological attachment to childhood is sustained for much longer. Perhaps with long familiarity it becomes more difficult to break. But I think that the complex social norms and risk/reward pressures of modern life - acutely evident in Japan - are the biggest factor. No child in his right mind would want to sign on to them.
  • by Mashiki ( 184564 ) < minus caffeine> on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:29PM (#44195617) Homepage

    Parents coddle adult kids. The kids have never been encouraged to fend for themselves, and this is the natural result.

    Actually it's much closer to the collapse of the Japanese family, more than anything. It's not the coddling, it's the disdain for people, society, and not wanting to go into the massive "grind your face into the dirt" mentality that exists in Japan.

    But we're seeing the entire thing play out here with the current generation of kids too. It's just not getting pulled up in the media.

  • 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 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.
  • 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...
  • Re:Internet (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jones_supa ( 887896 ) on Friday July 05, 2013 @12:54PM (#44195827)

    The Internet can provide you with almost everything you need to survive.

    Actually, I'd fine-tune that point a bit: after you have arranged yourself basic survival (food, shelter, etc.), Internet can offer you everything to fill the rest of your life with.

  • 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?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, 2013 @01:07PM (#44195955)

    I can vouch for that. The ROI on 3D women versus the 2D kind is simply atrocious.

    Sure it's marginally better with a 3D woman but the price you pay is outrageous relative to slight increase in satisfaction over my hand, the screen, and some good inebriants. The amount of money saved has allowed me to buy my own place to hide out in rather than having to live with mom and dad.

  • Re:LOL (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Friday July 05, 2013 @01:08PM (#44195965) Journal

    This, right here.

    I understand and feel the revulsion that a healthy adult has towards child porn, but from an objective/legal point-of-view, the West got stupid about how they enforce such laws. Here's why: The basis of laws surrounding it is that the production of child porn harms a child - something that makes perfect sense, and should have laws in place to prevent/limit as much as logically possible. OTOH, who exactly is harmed in a comic strip? One would think that it would present a means of release for those pervs who do get into such crap, and to let them do so without harming anyone in the process. A teenaged kid sexting his/her SO should get a stern talking-to by the parents, and definitely should be enlightened on why that is a monumentally stupid idea - but no, the kid should not get tossed in the slammer and stigmatized for life.

    Possession/distribution of actual photography or video depicting actual kids being sexually abused *is* illegal in Japan - because sexual abuse is just as much a crime there as it is in any other civilized country. Hell, if I remember right, distributing photographic/video porn depicting genitalia of *adults* is a crime in Japan (albeit a misdemeanor w/ a heavy fine...) OTOH, the comic/drawn ones can show whatever detail the artist feels like including.

    You (tqk) are definitely correct in that Japan is an enigma unto itself, culturally. Millennia of isolation will morph any culture into something that will likely never be understood from any POV outside of it. That said, Japan got hella creative in what their multi-faceted culture is and represents - to themselves. Anyone else could blow off an entire a lifetime trying to understand it.

    As for TFA? I can see why it would make sense for some Japanese men to simply withdraw from society... Japan isn't exactly an easy-going culture to live in, competition for anything (females, jobs, status, whatever) is incredibly intense, and there are few other routes available to the typical Japanese man that doesn't involve a shitload of money (e.g. move self and family to another country whose culture you may get on better in.) These men still have a non-negotiable duty to care for their parents, and real estate/rent is frickin' astronomical anyway. They spent nearly every waking hour of their childhood with little outside of intense study and discipline, so it's not like they learned to be social mavens in the first place - they likely only found peace when they were alone.

    Hell - even if they do find a job and a wife, they may not leave home anyway. The answer why is pretty simple; If their parents own and don't rent, they stand a better chance of inheriting their parents' home than they do of ever being able to afford one of their own - which is pretty traditional in its own right. In most cases, it's not like they have as much potential competition from siblings, what with smaller family sizes over the decades.

  • Re:Internet (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mike Frett ( 2811077 ) on Friday July 05, 2013 @01:25PM (#44196147)

    Yeah this isn't solely a Japanese issue. This is happening everywhere but perhaps not in the numbers they're seeing in Japanese culture. I'd like to see more data.

  • Re:It is protest. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, 2013 @01:29PM (#44196173)

    Sorry, but you're wrong. I've taught for twenty years, kids are just as vapid today as they were twenty years ago. Kids don't really change, just the styles and slang do. Today's OMG (which by the way is so yesterday) is simply an 2010s version of "gnarly dude". I recently ran across my HS yearbook from 1986 while cleaning out the garage. The girls looked incredibly young and the crap my friends wrote in them was dreadfully banal. Finally to put this in perspective while working on my MA in history I read about twenty yearbooks from 1933-1935 not only did I read the little introductions in the yearbooks but I also read the inscriptions. Guess what, they could have been written by a teen today. They were that close to the same level of stupidity. It was truly eye opening. The only thing that changed was the drug references (marijuana is bigger now), and the slang, otherwise they had the same adolescent stupidity.

  • Re:It is protest. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by locofungus ( 179280 ) on Friday July 05, 2013 @01:33PM (#44196219)

    I suspect you're wrong. The average intelligence hasn't really changed much at all.

    What has changed is what you're prepared to accept.

    When you were 16, the fact that she was pretty and appeared to like you was more than sufficient to keep your interest in her (at least for a while)

    Now you're finding that looks aren't nearly enough to keep your interest beyond the first time she opens her mouth.

    Give it another ten years and you'll come to realize that looks really don't matter that much at all. You can admire the hot sexy ones from a distance while listening to the intelligent interesting ones. In time you might discover that she's pretty hot and sexy as well as interesting and intelligent - especially if she starts showing more than a social interest in you - and even if you don't you'll have found a new friend.

    On the whole I find women more interesting, easier to talk to, and more intelligent than men.


  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday July 05, 2013 @01:37PM (#44196255) Homepage

    There's an anime version of Welcome to the N.H.K. [] The first episode describes someone becoming hikikomori. Then it gets worse. It's so painful that when it ran on Japanese TV, a public service announcement of a help line for hikikomori ran with each episode.

  • Re:It is protest. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LearningHard ( 612455 ) on Friday July 05, 2013 @01:41PM (#44196297) Journal

    I'll just leave this here: []

    "Sick of being treated like the enemy, guys are dropping out of society"

  • Re:LOL (Score:3, Interesting)

    by clarkn0va ( 807617 ) <> on Friday July 05, 2013 @02:13PM (#44196607) Homepage
    Classical conditioning and generalization [] are pretty well understood phenomena by now. If you don't think that generalization for sexual stimulus can occur between animations and living persons, then how do you propose people are being stimulated by animations in the first place?
  • Re:Internet (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cnflctd ( 69843 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <thcerbmal.j.mot>> on Friday July 05, 2013 @02:16PM (#44196661)

    I was too; From 1999 through 2003, I was on disability (U.S.) and eating enough to maintain my weight at 450 pounds (sticky keyboard anyone?). I left the house only to foodshop. I don't think I could lived like that without substantial chemical assistance (booze, drugs, or ice cream).

    Overeaters Anonymous saved my ass; I'm at normal weight, married, in a 9-5 job. I'm still one shy dude, and can get antisocial at the drop of a hat, but I'm much better than I was.

  • 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 roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Friday July 05, 2013 @02:31PM (#44196793) Homepage Journal

    It's 'harder' out there and yet millions of people are able to LIVE without even going outside of their house? Interesting theory, so what is feeding, clothing, taking care of them if not the wealth that the generations have accumulated and they are spending?

    In reality of-course this problem has nothing to do with porn and tentacles and video games, those are just fine escape routes, the reality is that this problem started at the same time as Japan went off the competitive road into inflation driven Keynesian nightmare of an 'economy' that destroyed their real productive economy, prevented the necessary deflation (prevented prices from falling sharply and from many zombie banks and companies shutting down and restructuring). This is the result of a society that is eating itself from the inside with inflation (money printing) policies that keep an otherwise productive population from being much more productive, from being able to do with their productivity what THEY would want to do with it and instead having huge government spending programs that keep failed businesses afloat (all of which are tied to the government structures, that's Japan unfortunately) and so the productive nature of Japanese worker has been used completely inefficiently to grind gears rather than to excel in some interesting enterprises, experiments, attempts to do better than being stuck in 12 hour a day jobs that are more like military divisions rather than places where creativity drives forward the economy by increasing efficiency and creating products that actually improve people's lives.

    This is Keynesian collectivism in action.

  • Re: Universe 25 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Friday July 05, 2013 @03:48PM (#44197745)
    I lived in Japan for some time. They're no more merciless towards mistakes than any other society is in my opinion.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, 2013 @04:00PM (#44197893)
    I am somewhat in the same boat and I feel a lot like you do. I work, but only doing online gigs and only just enough to pay rent on my tiny, one room studio apartment and to buy food. Basically I do as little as possible to maximize my own free time. I feel absolutely no desire to become rich or famous, I just want to be left alone to enjoy life in my own way. Usually that entails a lot of reading, a lot of movies and a lot of video games. I do go out for an hour long walk every day, but only very early in the morning at a time when the fewest possible people are out and about.

    The odd thing is, I wasn't always this way. I used to have a good paying, "gold collar" job, a fairly large house, a decent car, friends and I dated a lot, but that was over ten years ago. At some point, without even realising it, I just gave up. It wasn't worth all of the hassle and I found myself slowly adapting to a new way of life. I am not at all shy, as defined by "hikikomori" and I am still quite forward (some would say blunt) when I speak to people; perhaps a holdover from my "former life".

    Some try to criticize my way of life, as if I'm not "normal" or as if I should have something to be ashamed about, but I really don't care about those people. Admittedly, I used to carry a certain amount of shame, but that disappeared long ago. Now, I focus on my own peace of mind and that suits me just fine.
  • Re:Universe 25 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Friday July 05, 2013 @04:11PM (#44198035) Homepage Journal

    You're saying Japan IS overpopulated, despite the fact that the population is shrinking?

    That's right.

    Japan still has a lot of room.

    Japan is using all of its useful land for something.

    The crowd is a cultural thing in Tokyo, outside of Tokyo, the cities and suburbs feel more similar to other parts of the world. There might not be the suburban sprawl of midwestern US cities, but it's not overcrowded.

    You seem to believe that the carrying capacity of a nation involves every square foot being filled with apartment complexes, but this is not at all the case.

    There's no fighting over resources, which is how most people would define "overpopulated."

    Uh, what? There's a lack of jobs because there's no fighting over resources?

    So aside from circular logic, what makes you say that?

    You're not even approaching logic, and you're accusing me of using the circular kind?

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