Food for Thought

Hikikomori is a phenomenon where children, mostly boys, lock themselves in their rooms and refuse to come out. It started in my generation, now in our 50s, and many remain locked up to this day. Some became hikikomori after working for some years. Their parents are now in their 80s, still supporting them with meager pensions. This phenomenon is called the “8050 problem.”

The obvious question is: What happens when the parents die? I watched a documentary that answered this question. I think common knee-jerk reactions are: “Kick them out!” “We all have to work!” “So selfish and irresponsible!” But the documentary convincingly explains why this isn’t a matter of being spoiled as kids.

One man in the documentary starved to death after his parents died, and his brother found the old notes from when he worked as a door-to-door salesman. He noticed how meticulous the notes were and remarked that he probably took his job too seriously. This seems to be a common pattern. They withdrew from society because they were too responsible and reached a breaking point where something died within them. Another man in the documentary described his life as an after-life. I don’t think this happens to irresponsible people; they tend to live a care-free life.

I also watched a lecture by the Japanese psychiatrist who coined the term “hikikomori.” (Interestingly, he is Lacanian.) He said there is no use debating with them about responsibility, fairness, right, and wrong because they know. It would only cause them to withdraw further.

I’ve lost many friends from arguing. In every case, there was a clear moment, a breaking point, after which they stopped talking to me. I think hikikomori is a situation where people reach this breaking point with the entire society. It doesn’t matter that the criticism hurled at them has merits. They accept that they have no rebuttals and shut down because conformity would mean the death of their souls anyway.

Logic exists to make our behavior consistent and predictable to one another. Civilization requires us to act rationally. The more socialistic the culture is, the more logically we must behave. I believe hikikomori is the dark side of Japan’s peaceful life.