Big in Japan: Strange mental disorder confines Japanese youths to their rooms

If you’re anything like me, you’re awed by the power and capacity of the human mind.

Mankind’s greatest asset, the mind has enabled our species to develop society and technology, and to rise above and beyond even our closest primate ancestors.

If you’re anything like me, you’re also terrified by the power of the capacity of the human mind.

Especially when things start to go wrong…

In all of my time over here in Asia, one of the craziest things I’ve heard about is a uniquely Japanese mental disorder known as hikikomori (??????????), which literally translates as “pulling away, being confined.”

Referred to by Western experts as acute social withdrawal, hikikomori describes youths who choose to completely withdraw from society by shutting themselves inside their parent’s house for years on end.

According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, a case of hikikomori starts after a youth has remained inside a house for more than six months, though there have been recorded cases of self-imposed isolation extending for more than a decade.

At this point in the article, I am asking that you go outside for a minute, get some sun, and then come back to the computer when you’re ready. Trust me!

Are you back? Feeling a bit more relaxed and healthy? Good.

So, what exactly causes a young Japanese youth to voluntarily imprison themselves in their room for months on end.

(And no, the answer is not so they can play World of Warcraft in real-time!)

Often times, hikikomori start out when a child refuses to go to school, which is a common enough condition to warrant its own unique word in Japanese, namely tōkōkyohi (登校拒否).

As you’d imagine, the pressure to succeed in Japan can be intense, and few children are ready to leave the comfort of home for the angst-ridden classroom.

Japanese psychologists also point out that young adults may feel overwhelmed by Japanese society, and have difficult times fulfilling their expected social roles.

By confining themselves to the home, youths with hikikomori can set their own sleep schedules, and venture outdoors only at night when there is no one around.

Internet gaming has also become a popular escape from reality, especially since it allows for social contact without the pressure of spending face-to-face time with someone.

Needless to say, the stress on the family caused by a youth stricken with hikikomori is immeasurable. In a culture where parents are overprotective of their children, it can literally take months or even years before a family comes to term with the problem, and seeks out professional help.

In fact, most parents of hikikomori youths end up prolonging the inevitable by going out of their way to accommodate their children, either by sneaking their child food or hiding the severity of their child’s condition from family and friends. Sadly, few Japanese parents could ever imagine taking a stand against their children, and forcing them to reenter society.

On that note, I’ve been inside my apartment all day writing, so I think it’s time to take a quiet stroll through the park…