Thursday, 9 August 2012
My dear friend Eiko has a best friend in Tokyo who she talks of. This friend has a son she told me who is 21 now and she has only seen him a few times in 4 years. She noticed he had a shoulder length beard last time she caught sight of him. He lives in her house however. In fact, he lives in the kitchen, locked himself in. They had to build another kitchen. Why did she not knock the door down and demand he came out? Because these kids are so fragile she said, they live in fear of him committing suicide. She doesnt want to lose him, she loves him. Maybe, she is scared of him too. She leaves food outside his door on a tray. He never leaves his room except to take the tray. This kind of acceptance and waiting may be impossible for Mothers brought up in other cultural societies to understand. It is a very complex integrated jenga block system of emotions, walls and communication breakdowns that are involved in all family and social dynamics leading here and something I cannot explain or anyone explain simply or quickly..
There are as many non-Japanese journalists, psychologists, spectators and travelers, as Japanese who are researching the domestic problem we have with the rising number of the peculiar-to-Japan phenomena of hikikomori ..
The social problem is becoming a political agenda with writers blaming everything from over-mothering parental style to Japan`s economic recovery after the war. Some p.docs in the US are even wanting to have it officially named as an official psychotic disorder. Hikikomori is however not something to be used as a weapon for our own agenda and I would like to question if we are making a big mistake giving it disease status . Yes, it is a very serious and painful problem here that touches all who are even remotely involved with it and discussion of it by people who have no direct experience of it and wish to use it as proof for any number of theories does not help because exactly like the shutting away isolation main feature of hikikomori itself, it lumps all the shut- ins into one category which is exactly what they are all running from.
Hikikomori is not simply playing truant. It is not just shutting the door of their room as many teenagers the world over do with a sign saying Keep Out...it is not only about teenagers wanting to be alone. It is a scream from the heart of a child who is so sensitive, he or she is unable to shelter from the stress of what is expected of him/her and so he or she hides and waits. More often than not, for years and years. It is peculiar to Japan for many reasons, too many to list, the most commonly mentioned being the associated stress features of shame/failure/face and a one way- one rule structure to society that is particular in this culture BUT this too I believe is not what we should be focusing on because we cannot change the culture overnight and we cannot change the cultural roots and values of a person overnight. We must instead, provide these people with coping strategies and recovery strategies and most importantly ways out. Practical help for real people who we respect for their own ways of thinking, and not sympathy and blame shuffle for diseased people who we give help to with drugs.
In discussing the problem as one big bucket social issue that must be dealt with by education and governmental ministries alike, are we not missing the whole point? That these children and young adults are crying out for individual attention, for their own voice to be heard, for having opinions or thoughts that are not the norm or they fear may be ridiculed, for being... bless them...a little different.
In 2011, over 200,000 elementary and junior high school students (小中学生, ) were futoukou (不登校, absent from school) almost all due to ijime, bullying problems, according to stats reported in the Asahi Shimbun. Futoukou is often a precursor for hikikomori. Not always but it is definitely the first sign we have a child who is having difficulties adapting to expectations and now might be the time to encourage latent talents that are not being noticed. To allow for students to drop subjects they hate, to allow for students to have more options. As of now, for example curriculum requirements focus on Japanese, English, Maths and Social studies only as the 4 main classes students must excel in equally to enter a top university to study....say....art.. Changing this to allow for equal status to be given to an optional class is a simple curriculum innovation we could take if Monkashou would let us. It just might help to prevent the pile up in later years of hikikomori.
As Mother of a Japanese son who has now recovered from hikikomori, this subject is dear to my heart and I welcome any personal stories to add to my ongoing research.