Percentage of Middle-Aged Hikikomori Unexpectedly High
posted on by Eric Stimson
Asaichi, a Japanese news program on NHK, recently shed a light on Japan's reclusive hikikomori community — adults who withdraw into their homes for extended periods of time, only emerging to go shopping. Sometimes referred to as "SNEPs" (Solitary Non-Employed Persons), they are commonly thought of as young adults going through a difficult phase in adjusting to their newly independent lifestyles, yet Asaichi pointed out that a high percentage of them are in fact middle-aged and have lived much of their lives alone and unemployed.
This was brought to light in July, when a 60-year-old man posted on a major online forum that he had lived as a hikikomori since he was 18. "For 42 years, my life's been a cycle of eating three times a day, watching TV, reading magazines, and watching videos," he claimed. While there's no way of confirming that he's telling the truth, his story is borne out by government statistics. A 2013 survey in Yamagata Prefecture in northern Japan found that out of 1,607 hikikomori there, 717 were 40 or above. A 2014 survey in Shimane Prefecture, north of Hiroshima, found 521 hikikomori over age 40 in a total population of 1,040 hikikomori. A cabinet survey found about 700,000 hikikomori across the country in 2010, with about 1,550,000 more undeclared. But Masaki Ikegami, author of Otona-no Hikikomori: Hontou-ha "Soto-ni Deru Riyuu"-wo Sagashiteru Hito-tachi ("Adult Hikikomori: They're Really Searching for a Reason to Go Outside"), points out that the survey only looked at people aged 39 or below, and judges based on local government surveys that there are over a million hikikomori in Japan over age 40.
The causes of this social phenomenon are complex. Many were employed when they were younger, but either through personal failure or business restructuring, they lost their jobs and were unable to find others at their age. They feel shame or embarrassment at their predicament and barricade themselves in their homes to avoid pestering their families. Many break off communications with their families altogether. Those without health problems fall outside of Japan's social safety net, condemning them to impoverished lifestyles. Those who actively seek jobs find themselves baffled by dodgy job offers, or those with unrealistically high expectations and qualifications, or those offering low pay.
Some prefectures are taking measures to combat the problem: Shizuoka Prefecture in central Japan has a medical team that pays house calls to hikikomori, for instance, and an organization called Komitto in Akita Prefecture in northern Japan assists hikikomori with finding jobs, training their skills, and socializing. But the biggest barrier to re-engaging hikikomori with the outside world may be the attitudes of those they engage with. A former financier explained, "It felt like once I was without work, my value as a person had dropped. You're supposed to work from your college graduation until the present, without changing jobs much, and without any blanks. It's not an oil or gas pipeline, but the joints have to be connected and there can't be any leaks."