How Do Hikikomori Afford Their Expensive Hobbies?

by Justin Sevakis,

Dark Mike asks:

How do NEETs/Hikikomori afford their lavish lifestyle even if they have no jobs?

For those unfamiliar, NEET stands for Not Engaged in Education, Employment or Training. The term was actually first coined in the UK, and describes young adults (under 25 or so) who are... well, just what it says: unemployed and not in any kind of schooling. In Japan, this category includes 700,000 or so young adults, many of whom have become anti-social shut-ins known as "hikikomori".

A lot of ink has been spilled about Japan's hikikomori problem. By and large, Japan's hikikomori are depressed young people who have -- either willfully or through inaction -- shut themselves off by imprisoning themselves in a small apartment (usually a one-room flat) and never leaving, for as long as a decade or more. They buy their daily necessities online. They don't talk to old friends or family. Many are suffering from a variety of mental illnesses, including neurosis, anxiety and social phobias, made worse by societal pressures and social isolation. Nearly all of them are male, and while this was once a phenomenon of college-aged adults, the average age is now 32. The hikikomori issue started coming up in Japanese media around 2004 or so, and became a subject of much hand-wringing.

I highly recommend the hugely influential anime series/novel/manga series Welcome to the NHK for a run-down of just what that life looks like. Most NEETs are living off of an allowance provided to them by their parents. This allowance usually covers rent for a tiny studio apartment, utilities and a certain amount for food. Very often the parents are riddled with guilt over their kids' status as a NEET, blaming their own lack of dedication as parents, for pressuring them to succeed too much, or just can't bear to let them starve or go homeless. Some have accused these parents of enabling their grown kids' unhealthy lifestyle, but for them the alternative is even scarier.

NEETs and hikikomori do not have a "lavish" lifestyle. Many of them live in squalor. Their tiny apartments are often the sort of messy piles of trash and dirty clothes that one would expect of a hoarder. Many don't have air conditioning -- a huge bummer in Japan's notoriously hot and humid summers. But many of them are otaku -- virtual girlfriends make good salve for lonely hearts, after all. They do have a computer (not a huge deal in this day and age -- I've known of homeless people with laptops), and many spend plenty of time online.

Otaku hikikomori will go hungry, subsisting on just a few snacks from the convenience store, to afford new otaku goodies. They'll let bills go delinquent and let rent go overdue, if necessary. Some of them do actually have spending money built into their allowance. But while these guys are willing to do anything for their character goods, they're not exactly spending thousands of dollars every month, because they just don't have it to spend.

There are antisocial otaku in Japan that do get paid -- often for nerdy things like remote IT work, web coding and MMORPG item and skill harvesting. It's that sort of otaku that tends to buy a boat load of expensive merchandise and DVD/Blu-ray releases. But some of these might count as holding down a job, therefore disqualifying them from NEET/hikikomori status.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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