2006 Volume 79 Pages 25-46
The purpose of this paper is to describe and interpret interviews with persons who regard themselves as “hikikomori, ” and to point out the negative effects, especially for such individuals, caused by the confusion of the concepts of “hikikomori” with “NEETs.”
“Hikikomori, ” which refers to youth in a state of social withdrawal, has been noted since the latter half of the 1990s in Japan. In recent years, the concept of “NEETs” has also come to attract attention. “NEETs” refers to young people who are “not in education, employment, or training.” The concept of “hikikomori” has been partly incorporated into discussions about “NEETs, ” and it is commonly said that the two can be discussed in the same context. Moreover, some organizations dealing with “hikikomori” have started to support “NEETs.” However the understanding of “hikikomori” that has accumulated may be distorted by the confusion between the two concepts.
Moreover, this confusion has a direct effect on individuals who consider themselves to be “hikikomori.” Therefore, it is necessary to distinguish the two concepts. Based on this perspective, the author describes and interprets interviews with such individuals, and points out the problems of providing support for “hikikomori” sufferers within the concept of “NEETs”.
The interviewed revealed the following facts. People who consider themselves to be “hikikomori” see themselves as inferior and withdraw from relationships with others because though they have difficulty working, they worry excessively that “working is the natural state for an adult.” Their self-esteem cannot be restored immediately even if they participate in a self-help group. Informants re-construct stories about themselves and their lives and come to see the norm of life-courses in relative terms, and regain self-esteem from this. However, this can lead to a decline in their motivation to start working. Moreover, informants cannot overcome their distrust and fear of society. Therefore, sufferers of “hikikomori” seek a new way of life as they again ask themselves various questions, such as, “why must we work?” “What do I want to do?” “Who am I?” and so on. As they think through these questions, they resolve to make a fresh start.
This process of struggle is in essence the process of recovery from “hikikomori.” Current measures for “NEETs, ” are based on the idea that it is more important to start working than to think too much about the meaning of working. However, individuals suffering from “hikikomori” have regained their self-esteem by asking the various questions concerning working and their own lives. Therefore, it is likely that the confusion of the two concepts will not only deprive people suffering from “hikikomori” of the opportunity for recovery but will also lead them to abandon their own efforts voluntarily.