Young people refusing to leave their rooms

Updated 2018 08 20: Minor edits, added links to more related articles

They are called Hikikomori, a million or more Japanese young people refusing to leave their rooms, while living off their parents – some for decades at a time. Why?  The BBC asserts that they are mostly or virtually exclusively young men.  Others, not quite as biased as the BBC has become accustomed to be, say that the problem exists, but that it is about equally shared between the sexes.  Not only that, they point to evidence that appears to indicate that the problem prevails world-wide, affecting people in developed nation, and that no firm dimensions of the “affliction” are known.

Who is right?  Could it be the staff of a government-funded media organ who wish to make a field trip to a foreign nation on the other side of the world, or is it someone who wishes to rationalize nothing and objectively identifies what is known about a perceived problem with young people in developed nations, namely not very much.

We know very little about the problem, so little, that it is ludicrous to attempt justifying the sending of a whole slew of BBC staff on a jaunt to Japan to interview people who know little more than the BBC staff has been led to believe.

Hikikomori: Why are so many Japanese men refusing to leave their rooms?

By William Kremer and Claudia Hammond, BBC World Service
Link to article

Here is another quote on the same issue, but it stresses that hikikomori is not at all a pronounced gender issue, and that it is not a peculiarly Japanese problem:

As many as a million young people in Japan are thought to remain holed up in their homes – sometimes for decades at a time. Why?

(h/t Barry Hammond)

The article describes what it set out to find, but it addresses the other side of the issue like this, and make sure not to miss it:

What about the girls?
[Photo of an unhappy Asian girl]

  • Hikikomori are seen as predominantly male – Tamaki Saito says males occupy 70%- 80% of the group
  • However, an internet survey by NHK found just 53% to be male
  • Andy Furlong at the University of Glasgow speculates that female withdrawal into the home seems so natural to Japanese society that women hikikomori may remain unreported

What is the truth about hikikomori? For one thing, who is NHK? (The article mentions “NHK”. twice, but fails to explain what the abbreviation stands for.)  Secondly, Internet surveys are not statistically-valid survey tools, at best very imprecise.  They are self-selecting and represent sample populations that are not randomly selected.  That means that no statistically-valid projections can be made from such surveys to a whole population.

There is a wide range in the estimates offered for boys and men, substantiated by — as far as I can tell — two anecdotes.  Statements such as, “Hikikomori are seen as predominantly male – Tamaki Saito says males occupy 70%- 80% of the group,” without identifying what comprises “the group,” are not very helpful with establishing the dimensions of the issue.  On the balance of the evidence, so far, it appears to be, Japanese young people who refuse to leave their rooms.  There is no need to lay the blame on young men.

Given the anecdotal evidence observed by my wife and me here in Canada (and we never made even an attempt to formally study the issue here or anywhere else), we are led to believe that the problem could be as prevalent in Canada as it is in Japan, except that perhaps no one has yet bothered to investigate whether the problem exists here, let alone report on it.  As far as we have seen, the problem in Canada is not predominantly a male one.

I grant that the problem exists but am not convinced as to how prevalent it is, that it is a uniquely Japanese issue, or that anyone can state with any acceptable degree of confidence what its global distribution or trends are. Seven billion people have not been studied sufficiently well to permit the conclusion that what the article describes deviates from a global norm or what the global norm even is.

Take note of another side-bar:

Hikikomori – just a Japanese thing?
[Photo of a man and his son arguing]

  • Hikikomori has entered the Oxford English Dictionary as “In Japan: abnormal avoidance of social contact”
  • But Saito Tamaki believes it is also a problem in Korea and Italy
  • After a 2002 BBC documentary, Saito received a flurry of emails from British parents who said their children were in a similar condition
  • Andy Furlong points out that young people in Western societies frequently “take time out” in gap years or have “false starts” on careers or courses without attracting stigma
  • He adds that the preconditions for a hikikomori-like problem are falling into place in Europe, with 50% youth unemployment in some countries, forcing young people to continue living at home

Well, as I had stated above, Canada is another but not the only non-Japanese nation where the problem exists. Perhaps the Oxford English Dictionary should not have been quite so rushed to put its obviously flawed definition of hikikomori into print, but why was the Oxford English Dictionary so rushed doing so?  According to Google Ngram, the term appeared in print for the first time in the English-language in 1996!   Contrast the Oxford English Dictionary’s eagerness to popularize “hikikomori” with its glacial pace regarding “misandry”.

Who can fathom what goes through the minds of the staff at the Oxford English Dictionary, when they contemplate how best to modify the English language in their efforts to mold it best for their goals in social engineering?

Still, I see why the BBC article puts the emphasis on Japan. Someone needed justification to go there and investigate the problem in situ:

The Truth About Mental Health Episode 6 of 6
Duration: 29 minutes
First broadcast: Friday 05 July 2013
In Japan hundreds of thousands of young people withdraw from society for years or even decades.
They are known as hikikomori and Claudia Hammond travels to Tokyo to discover more about this mysterious condition and why it is so prevalent in Japan. [My emphasis —WHS]

With a few more articles on Japan’s epidemic of hikikomori, the BBC should be able to get enough funding to send a few more of its staff to Japan to study the issue in-situ, indefinitely — never mind that the problem exists elsewhere, even right at home, and that it could be studied there far more economically. Still, that would require common sense, and it is my impression that the BBC lost just about all of that a long time ago. That is to be expected, given a practically open-ended budget, funded out of the virtually inexhaustible pockets of the taxpayers.

Sure enough, here is a link to another BBC article on the epidemic of  hikikomori.

Hikikomori is being presented as a malaise. Individuals afflicted by it are called “patients” and “sufferers” who must be treated with kindness to cure them of their affliction, so as to ease their return to society.

Is it really a disease? Would it not be more accurate to consider it nothing other than simply malingering?

Is it conceivable that parents who are not very affluent need to feed children, hikikomori, who have idle hands, in a society without a welfare system that eagerly jumps to the rescue of those who can but don’t want to work, even if it is nothing more than to support those who cannot find work, or who don’t even bother to go out looking for it?

In a country where the GDP per capita is no more than $500 a year, at least 99 per cent of the population would not dream of indulging hikikomori “sufferers.” It seems reasonable that the problem of hikikomori becomes the more prevalent, the more affluent a society becomes, with the highest incidence rates to be found in countries with a GDP per capita of $50,000 or more a year.

Why are some people in the affluent nations surprised that people in less affluent nations and in those with a substantial portion of their population starving hate them?  One should not be surprised that the BBC and its staff were to be the least likely to find out about the reason for that.  They appear to be “suffering” from hikikomori, as it is obvious that they retreated from society and live in an ivory tower all of their own.  Maybe what should be done to cure them of their affliction is nothing other than what any responsible parent should do: stop feeding them, and they will soon come to their senses.

I will come out and say it: Hikikomori is an affliction caused by affluence, a “disease” that only the jaded can afford to acquire, but there is another side to the problem.

Unemployment among young people is very high, the higher the minimum wage, the worse it becomes.  It could just as well be that it is only said that there are young people refusing to leave their rooms because there is no place for them to go to work, for as long as few people can afford to pay minimum wages to have their lawns cut or their snow shoveled.  I know a lot of old people (including us) who would gladly offer young people $20 to shovel the snow or have them cut their lawns, but who can’t for the life of them get any young people to do it for them.  Obviously, it has come to the point that young people don’t see a need to go out looking for work, because they feel that society and their parents owe them a living.

Unemployment is not working — whether it is caused by lack of willpower, lack of opportunity or by young people refusing to leave their rooms

The solution may be quite simple.  Let’s go back to the system that worked quite well.  Cut social support for young people who can’t find work at minimum wages, lower or eliminate minimum wages, let young people find work for whatever they get paid for it, and the whole problem will soon be forgotten.  Only the very rich and the very jaded will then still be able to let their adult children be called “young people who refuse to leave their rooms.”  A free market will soon let wages for young people seek the level that they deserve.  That will be, what both sides will agree the work that needs to be done is worth doing.

There is quite a bit of work for young people out there that is  not getting done, that a lot of young people don’t like doing, because it is obvious that some governments or parents feel young people are in need of retirement pay before they have done a day’s worth of work.  Still, I wish the BBC would quit with the blaming of young men and the pretense that a problem that British parents tell Japanese social researchers about does not exist in the U.K. or elsewhere other than in Japan.


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