Hikikomori in Japan

The culture bound syndrome I chose to research is hikikomori among the Japanese culture. Hikikomori can be described in various ways; generally, this CBS is defined in terms of young people who withdraw. Within the Japanese culture, is it very common among young middle class men to experience this form of withdrawal; one article suggests almost one million cases have been reported with males being 70-80% of the occupancy rate. In terms of the individual, the symptoms vary by case, but the key factor is the act of removing oneself from society. For some, this can last for up to twenty years. Some experience violent tendencies, insomnia and forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, while most become lethargic and depressed. On behalf of the biology of these individuals, it is common for them to be in good health, with the exception of the symptoms of hikikomori. Over time, the average age of cases has risen, resulting in a shift from late teens and early twenties to early thirties.

The cultural dimension of this culture bound syndrome is quiet complex. The article argues that there are powerful social forces that can be the trigger, drawing individuals to hikikomori, or the magnet, keeping them in this state of hikikomori. One force is called sekentei, which reflects the importance of one’s reputation in the Japanese community and the pressure of impressing one’s peers. The second social force of the culture is called amae, or dependence. Japanese culture has an ideology surrounding strong family relationships and a dependency on one another. When one fails to live up to the expectations of the family, hikikomori may be the result.

The treatment of hikikomori is still being experienced with. Because there are many different forms of this syndrome and severities that occur among the individuals, the treatment forms are not static. According to the article, for the Japanese culture, the treatment sought by those suffering can vary, if treatment is even sought out in the first place. Some cases prefer group therapy, while others prefer individual care. The article emphasizes the approach of “reorganizing” the relationship between the patient and the parents. It is common for a length of time to pass before the Japanese culture turns to treatment options from a professional.

Kremer, William and Claudia Hammond. “Hikikomori: Why are so many Japanese men refusing to leave their rooms?” BBC News Magazine (2013). 16 July 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-23182523.

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Matt Meranda says:

    My definition of “culture” centers on the social forces that an individual experiences most regularly. A way of determining one’s culture is by assessing what that individual holds as normal (a more subjective way of defining the term, but I think it sheds important light to the nature of culture). There are countless types of culture under this definition, some more distinct than others, and some more subtle in their differences. Hikikomori in the broad Japanese culture is certainly a CBS under this definition. Technically speaking, the manifestation of this illnesses specific assortment of symptoms seems to be unique to Japan, hardly being diagnosed elsewhere. More than this however, the proposed contributors to this conditions onset seem to all be deeply rooted in social influences. The same social influences that define Japan’s culture are those that distinguish Hikikomori as a CBS. I think in this particular instance, its labeling as a social syndrome is appropriate in order to treat the condition. Therapy rather than pharmaceuticals seems to be a more reasonable and effective form of treatment for an illness that has no apparent biological markers. This isn’t to say however, that there aren’t any biologically based contributors or risk factors. In fact, I would predict that a syndrome like Hikikomori would be evaluated in Western cultures under a more biomedical paradigm; if found in the United States for instance, therapeutic techniques may be aimed at alleviation of Hikikomori’s symptoms such as depression or obsessive compulsiveness. As to which system has true advantage over the other, I wouldn’t be able to say.

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