An estimated one million Japanese youth suffer
from a problem known in Japan as hikikomori, which translates as “withdrawal” and refers to a person sequestered in his room for six months or longer with no social life beyond his home. (The word is a noun that describes both the problem and the person suffering from it and is also an adjective, like “alcoholic.”) Some hikikomori do occasionally emerge from their rooms for meals with their parents, late-night runs to convenience stores or, in Takeshi’s case, once-a-month trips to buy CD’s. And though female hikikomori exist and may be undercounted, experts estimate that about 80 percent of the hikikomori are male, some as young as 13 or 14 and some who live in their rooms for 15 years or more.
Hikikomori often describe years of rote classroom learning followed by afternoons and evenings of intense cram school to prepare them for high-school or university entrance exams. Today’s parents are more demanding because Japan’s declining birth rate means they have fewer children on whom to push their hopes, says Mariko Fujiwara, director of research at the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living in Tokyo. If a kid doesn’t follow a set path to an elite university and a top corporation, many parents – and by extension their children – view it as a failure. “After World War II,” Fujiwara told me, “Japanese only knew a certain kind of salaryman future, and now they lack the imagination and the creativity to think about the world in a new way.”
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