Shutting out the world - Hikikomori, the example of Japan.

Updated: May 31



Wherever we look all we see and hear is doom and gloom.

The socio economic development models that has been followed by countries and society till now have proven disastrous for our world and human wellbeing. The developed world has been rushing towards the abyss and the developing nations are hurtling in their wake.


The pandemic and lockdown has now provided all of us, a vital perspective on how much our modern social fabric has decayed. It is not too late, and we can still save ourselves.


As per they themselves, the current model of Western Europe and America is considered as the gold standard of how all societies should develop. All other countries seeking to become 'rich' blindly copy this lopsided model of development totally unsuitable for human development.


Democracy has a fatal flaw, it transfers wealth from the producers to the non producers without consideration. That is why all these rich countries, are welfare states. While they have achieved high material growth they have at the same time seen rapid emotional and spiritual decline. A significant proportion of their population suffer from some form of mental illness or depression. Loneliness seems to be the norm.


Increasingly, the major features that typify these leading societies are,

  • The acquisition of wealth without purpose.

  • Excessive communication without a sense of community.

  • Absence of real friends.

  • Troubled or non existent family lives.

  • Generally, unstable and even adversarial relationships between individuals and others.

Is it any wonder that 'Self Help' books, videos and programs are the top sellers. The helping professions have been the fastest growing employment segment.


Of what use is all that wealth, fame and power, both economic and military if the people should pay for it with their emotional and spiritual well being?


Japan has become such a formidable and proud economic power due to the unique nature of the Japanese people who aped the industrial and post industrial development model of America.

The price paid for their achievement has been steep. All is not well in Japanese paradise, as Japan struggles to retain its uniquely strong traditional social framework.


Following this particularly type of modernity Japan is beset with many problems. One serious problem is the increasing withdrawal of the young from society.


Called Hikikomori, meaning 'pulling inward', in Japanese. It is estimated that between 700,000 to 1.5 million young persons are afflicted by Hikikomori. It refers to the phenomenon of people who withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of self imposed isolation.

Hikikomori, are people who have socially, spatially and psychologically withdrawn from society.



As per Japanese Government reports.

Hikikomori, remain holed up in their apartments, never coming out. They get no exercise, have no friends nor social activity and by using technology they remain connected to a virtual world. This condition of social withdrawal usually lasts between 6 months to a decade.


Hikikomori affects both genders equally but are predominantly prevalent in middle- and upper-middle-class families. Hikikomori are nourished by food and essentials left outside their homes by others, usually ageing parents and NGOs. Hikikomori used to affect the young, now it has spread to every age group, where helping organisations supported by the Japanese government are taking over the responsibility for those who do not have parents or unable to support the Hikikomori.


That is not all.

A Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) survey found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic or family relationship. JFPA also found that 45% of women and 25% of men aged 16-24 were not interested in or despised sexual contact.


Worse is that governments and society have little or no idea how to cope, because the problems remain intractable in the current model of socio-economic development which is fundamentally alien to Japan.


So called modern prosperity is claiming the emotional life and soul of individuals, destroying families, communities and society at large. Since Japan much more than even Europe, America and Australia have a ridiculously compassionate government support network, individuals and groups do not attempt to resolve their problems.


When governments play God, individuals find it easier not to work, not to form families, not to have children, be indifferent to elders, distance themselves from spirituality and indulge in greater use of alcohol and drugs, etc. and indulge in promiscuous behaviour. Last but not the least they tend to widen the socio economic disparity between people.


The Japanese experience provides powerful lessons for countries like India, hurtling down the same path, blindly copying the western model of economic, political and social development.


What then are possible solutions for civilisations like India to not go along this same path?


Each land and its people are unique.

India is India, and no amount of blind copying of foreign cultures and values will work unless they harmonise with the local social, and cultural mind-scape.

A people need to decide, how they will measure their economic, social and cultural progress.


Which traditions to retain and which to discard?

  • It is essential to move away from becoming a total welfare state.