The Depths of Hikikomori

by Christopher Lovejoy on November 5, 2017

Hikikomori is a Japanese term that identifies a social phenomenon in Japan, reportedly affecting nearly a million people directly, and translates into English as “pulling inward, being confined”, referring to a situation where someone self-confines in a home for a long period of time (as an aside, Hikikomori is pronounced he-key-ko-mo-ri and it helps to view it as two words in one: hiki and komori).

Hikikomori strikes me cold, hard, and true as a reality that is intriguing and compelling on so many levels ~ light and dark on all dimensions: personal, interpersonal, transpersonal, and impersonal ~ that I find it difficult to know just where to begin to enter into its shadowy depths.

I must suppose that my initial attraction to this reality is due to my contemplative nature in finding sympathetic resonance with those who would retreat from the world into a world of their own making. Another piece of the puzzle in me being a vibrational match for this reality is that it defies any easy explanation that can hold up to scrutiny. Any attempt to pin it down, it seems to me, does not, indeed can not, do it justice.

In taking a butterfly view of Hikikomori, from which my understanding of the context that surrounds and sustains Hikikomori broadens, my appreciation of its relevance and significance for me, for others, and for society at large, deepens. In using this imagery, I wish to remind myself to take this social phenomenon lightly, though not frivolously, as I would still like to offer my presence to its many shadows.

In going high (but not too high), I can go deep (but not too deep).

On the surface, and at first glance, Hikikomori seems to be about the losses of honne (pr. hone-neh) and tatemae (pr. ta-teh-ma-eh). From a butterfly view, these losses certainly appear true for those who suffer them and, as a consequence, pull inward into confinement. I would wager that every society in the world is run by members who display a private face (honne) and a public face (tatemae) ~ a private face for family members and close friends who can help us come to terms with sorrow, disappointment, and frustration, and a public face for everyone else who can serve to remind us of the power of gratia (a Latin term that is at the root of such words as grace, gracious, and gratitude). With Japan, however, a most wonderful appearance is made with its own tatemae, in keeping with fourth density consciousness: an unusual yet most welcome facility for exercising patience and tactfulness for the sake of preserving and promoting peace and harmony, understanding and cooperation (at almost any cost).

I have never been to Japan (yet), but from what I can gather through my observations and interactions in my own country, both online and off, it seems that a rigorous, disciplined distinction is made and kept in Japan (and abroad) between honne and tatemae by many of its citizens, both formally and informally, which is not to say that this fine distinction can be graciously initiated and maintained at all times. I can only imagine, as an observing gaijin, from the point of view of a butterfly, that the pressure to maintain it is considerable, especially in light of any pressure to perform at peak efficiency, at work or in school. Add to this pressure the glaring pressure to graduate, occupationally and educationally, to ever higher levels of attainment in full view of everyone else and we have the makings of a pressure cooker whose effects are sometimes ~ how can I put this? ~ unpredictable. In this word ~ unpredictable ~ butterfly observers come face to face with a flitting dance of shadows whose effects can sometimes feel disconcerting.

Hikikomori: Who?

Hikikomori can be a lure for anyone, at any age, from any walk of life, but by the accounts that I’ve seen and read, the gentle souls who seem most drawn to it in Japan, collectively speaking, are young males (mostly teens, twenties, early thirties), who have, if not the emotional support of their parents, then at least their financial support. My sense is that these young hikikomori males can be placed into two groups: those who have been harassed, bullied, or literally beaten into a humiliating submission, and those who, for their own creative, contemplative, sensitive reasons, are sensing unequivocally that the many pressures of living up to the standards of their society are not worth their time and trouble. I can well imagine that Japanese parents (many of whom seem kind-hearted beyond belief) are a bit more sympathetic to the first group, if they can get past the shame, which is not to imply that anyone should bash the second group. In my view, both groups have legitimate cares and concerns in need of redress. In saying this, I do understand that there are those who are seasoned by experience who would rather withhold their sympathy from the second group, but this would ignore the delicate sensibilities with which the children of Japan are raised in view of their dedication to tatemae.

Hikikomori: What?

Hikikomori signifies more than a mere hermitage; it is a secluded way of being premised on profound protest ~ either a protest against those who neglect to confront toxic domination as a profound failure of tatemae or a protest against those who neglect to make adequate time and space to support and sustain the meaningful, purposeful cultivation of courage and creativity in society. Which is not to say that Hikikomori is not a complex phenomenon ~ it is, profoundly so ~ and to see just how complex it is, consider this academic definition (source) offered by an expert panel of researchers in Japan: Hikikomori is a state of social withdrawal for more than six months, not going to work or school except for occasionally going out, and not communicating with people besides family members. In reading this, I find myself inclined to ask: does this definition work for those who are bullied into submission and then confine themselves to a room for an entire month without communicating with anyone, including family members? Here, clearly, the risk of falling more deeply into existential anxiety or despair grows by the day. Does this definition work for those who refuse any kind of communication for an entire month, even with family members? Again, does the risk of falling into the depths of anxiety or despair not grow by the day? And what of those who bear the luxury of not going outside at all, even on occasion? And what of those who manage to resist the temptations of otaku to create beautiful or brilliant works of art in isolation for years on end and for no one’s eyes and ears except their own? What about them? The definition in question seems designed to conceal the shame of failure and the failure of shame.

Hikikomori: When?

Hikikomori is an ongoing temptation for submissives and sensitives, creatives and contemplatives, as much as it is a decisive redemption, affecting these types of persons at any time in their lives, from birth to death, should the means of withdrawal and confinement become and remain accessible or available; this is not a condition that affects only youth or young teenage males ~ to paint it as such does it no justice, either for those directly affected by it or for those seeking to redress it. Also, is six months not a long time to wait before presenting a label of Hikikomori to someone? There’s an English expression that I like to use and that people in the West like to use to forestall problems: “nip it in the bud”.

Hikikomori: Where?

Hikikomori: present only in Japan? Hardly. Pervasive only in Japan? It would seem to be so, which speaks to the brilliant economic success that is Japan and to the many shadows cast by this brilliance. Reportedly, in Japan the suburbs are a likely breeding ground for Hikikomori, as the more dominant and influential spirits of Japan inhabit the cities and the more down-to-earth, salt-of-the-earth type souls of Japan inhabit the country sides. In the houses or homes that give shape to the suburbs, a bedroom is turned into a prison or a haven, depending on the soul who occupies it.

Hikikomori: Why?

Because people yearn to be free ~ free of bullies, free of mindless rules and regulations, free of pointless constrictions and restrictions, free of societal norms and patterns and routines that constrict and confine and choke the individual spirit. Japan appears to be a nation with two faces: an extremely disciplined and well-behaved conservative face that insists on maintaining traditions and an extremely flexible, misbehaving liberal face that insists on rebelling against the emotional and behavioral fallout from a too-strict adherence to these traditions. Could it be that the refugees of Hikikomori are caught in the middle? And if they had a voice in society, would they simply tell us: “yes, make rules that benefit everyone, and yes, bend the rules so that everyone can benefit”? The message is simple, the resolution is complex.

Hikikomori: How?

A resolution of Hikikomori could come about in one of three ways ~ revolution, rebellion, or intervention. A revolution at the level of society in Japan does not seem too likely at this time, given its longstanding traditions and its ongoing preoccupations with seeking, having, and keeping the trappings of status and success. A rebellion at the level of individual initiative also seems unlikely, given the nature of the challenge at hand (people who care little or not at all about what is happening beyond the confines of their rooms or homes, or if do care, feeling more than a little helpless to improve it). An intervention, however, might be possible on a wide scale if those who identify as Hikikomori, if those who identify as being at risk for Hikikomori, if those who identify as being survivors of Hikikomori, and if those who identify as being advocates of those who identify as Hikikomori, can be awakened and empowered to meet the challenge of Hikikomori in a way that is meaningful for them.

a calm and humble life will bring more happiness
than the pursuit of success and the constant restlessness that comes with it

~ written on a piece of paper in 1922 that sold for $1.3 million at a recent auction ~ the author of this note? Albert Einstein; the successful bidder? unknown publicly at this time

The reality of Hikikomori is complex, to be sure, but its reality can be simply conveyed, as it is in this emotionally, viscerally powerful music video, which is born of true love and deep passion, and which offers the ultimate resolution by way of courage for the sake of love …

To be qualified to speak authoritatively on this subject would require this dedication: immersion into the language, culture, and customs of Japan. Is Hikikomori a mere symptom of a society with growing pains or a clear and present indicator of a society in dangerous decline? At this time, I suspect the latter, but again, for me to know this for sure, I would need some immersive education.

In the meantime, I find myself called to explore suitable means of intervention.

To share information and inspiration on what is happening on this troubled yet promising world, I drew up two lists of sites that are serving the causes of personal, global and/or cosmic awakening.

This post has been filed under Commentary in the Ultimate Outline.

Note: my evolving outline on approaching a realization of the ultimate in personal fulfillment can be found here, accessible from the nav menu under the page “Be Here Now”.

Note: this ever growing perspective began here: Ultimate Perspective


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