Job-hopping Japanese were called “freeters” – a combination of the word “freelance” and the German word for “worker”, arbeiter. In political discussion, freeters were frequently bundled together with “neets” – an adopted British acronym meaning “not in education, employment or training”. Neets, freeters, hikikomori – these were ways of describing the good-for-nothing younger generation, parasites on the flagging Japanese economy. The older generation, who graduated and slotted into steady careers in the 1960s and 1970s, could not relate to them.

BBC Magazine has a story about hikikomori, a term used in Japan to describe people who withdraw and stay in their rooms for long periods of time, often years. Some academics link the rise in hikikomori to the bursting of Japan’s bubble economy in the ’80s, and the recession that followed.

After BBC published it’s story, readers from all around the world wrote in to reveal their own experiences with hikikomori:

I shut myself away from society about 12 years ago. I still haven’t recovered and spend my time alone. I don’t work, I don’t go out, and I survive on welfare. I think a major problem with people like me is that we’re ultimately afraid of failure. Things have changed in the world. There are no longer secure career slots open for everyone with a little ambition and an education. We’re afraid of becoming a part of even worse statistics, such as being homeless. – Nicholas, Massachusetts, US

The most in-depth story I’ve read about a shut-in was written by someone who goes by the name K-2052. He earned money via coding, and ordered most of the things he needed on Amazon.


7 Comments / Post A Comment

questingbeast (#2,409)

I read a NYT article not long ago about it, which is also worth a read (though a few years old)

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

It’s amazing to think about how totally viable the life of a recluse is in current society. All you need is a wireless connection and a door to close on the world.

Lyesmith (#4,385)

A hikikimori is the main character of one of my favourite mangas, Cat Street ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat_Street_(manga) ) It’s a really interesting phenomenon (and the manga was appealing to my inner 16 year old, having been awkward and friendless and also having gone to an alternative high school that made things better).

Lyesmith (#4,385)

@Lyesmith Also, this is terribly sad: “Yoshiko’s son withdrew from society very gradually when he was 22… “I think my son is losing the power or desire to do what he wants to do,” she says. “Maybe he used to have something he wanted to do but I think I ruined it.”

siege91 (#1,738)

Heard part of this story on the radio last week. There was one guy they interviewed who explained that he had started to withdraw because of conflict with his parents over his choice of careers – his father was an artist and wanted him to be an artist as well, but he really wanted to be a programmer and work for a corporation. The classic “my parents just want me to pursue the arts but all I want is to debug payroll software”. Oh, Japan.

selenana (#673)

Interesting that they’re lumping hikikomori together with freeters in the story. I don’t think they’re very related, and I don’t get the sense that they’re conflated much here. Freeters also have a tendency to be people on the fringes, often involved with niche subcultures – very social in their way. Hikikomori withdraw because they can’t deal with society, with social pressures, human interactions. Freeters (which include full time temporary workers, people with semi-full time but not full time jobs, part time steady work) just don’t fit the full time work until you die for the company model (which is definitely changing).

Agh, I could go on and on.

One more notable thing is that the article (and many other like it) says that hikikomori are men. There’s a deeply sexist assumption going on here – we have female hikikomori, but the men are the ones who are failing and are noticed if they don’t go out and get full time employment (become “shakaijin” or a member of society, which is only recognized if you get a steady full time contract job) but women are just assumed to be spinsters that stay at the parental home. Ok I’ll stop now.

ThatJenn (#916)


In the months before I met my dude, he had set up a tent on a friend’s remote property and calculated that his current savings would pay for ten years of living alone there, which was his plan. He decided to briefly re-engage and go back to work for a couple of months at ten hours per week to save up to buy a gun he wanted; during that time, he crossed paths with me and I ruined everything (he is totally domesticated now and working on a degree in economics, heh). Anyway, I see a lot of him in this – it’s just an alternate world.

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