Written by Te-Hsing Lu and Vosot Ikeida
An Ultimate Choice
Te-Hsing Lu: I would like to introduce myself. I am a post-graduation student at Southern California Institute of Architecture(SCI-Arc), studying a master degree in the art of fiction and entertainment. What we do is visualizing the phenomenon currently happening around the world. My starting point is about how people think about madness. What is the definition of the madness?
Michel Foucault and Erving Goffman talk about madness in their books, they think madness basically differs in different ages, for example, if you are a woman living in mid-century and you have a strong sexual desire, you are tagged as hysteria. After the industrial revolution, if you can not work, you are treated as some kind of madness as well.
That’s the reason why I am digging into the hikikomori phenomenon in Japan, and also for my own context. As I mentioned, my grandmother was an elementary school teacher when Japan was colonizing Taiwan. She gave my mother a very strict education and instructions that keep on passing to us. So even now in Taiwan, we can feel that kind of strictness and educational pressure. For example, my grandmother always wants me to be a doctor, although I can’t really was not good enough to go to doctor’s school. But what I really want to do is study art, so I find somewhere in between, which is architecture. I am still trying to figure out what is behind this kind of mentality.
That’s the background story of why I come to Japan. I want to learn more about how people think about hikikomori, and how this is being dealt with. In Taiwan, hikikomori is still a term that not everyone recognizes. A lot of people still don’t understand. In Japan, there are organizations and ministries having clear definitions and ways to cope with this situation. Luckily, I get in touch with you and it is my pleasure to have this interview with you. Meanwhile, please feel free to point out if I mistake or misunderstand anything.
Vosot Ikeida: I don’t think you have misunderstood anything. That was fine. Your understanding is alright.
Lu: As you know, right now I am covering the story which was written by Mr. Ikegami (*1). He published the story in 2011, there was a hikikomori who knew the tsunami was coming, but he couldn’t go out. Because he saw someone outside of his door and he couldn’t leave. Then he decided to stay, which is also the commitment to his own death. I think this is the extreme response to his fear and his situation.
Vosot: I saw your video about that incident. There is another story, which is more intense, written by the same journalist, Mr. Ikegami. It was published in 2017(*2). It is about a hikikomori living in Okayama prefecture. He was already in his 40s, and he got cancer. If he didn’t go to the hospital and he didn’t get hospitalized, he would die. But, he made a choice that he would die as a hikikomori. In that case, it is more clear that he chose the identity of a hikikomori. “Identity” might be too strong a word. The hikikomori in Miyagi, he made a choice clearly, but it was quite sudden and he confronted a quite unexpected situation, which was the tsunami. He had to make a decision quite rapidly. But the hikikomori in Okayama prefecture was different. As you know, the cancer is proceeding quite gradually, so he had many chances to get out of his hikikomori room and to be hospitalized, but he didn’t. So I think that incident in Okayama prefecture is more suitable for your interest, that’s my opinion.
The Definition of 'Hikikomori'
Lu: I find the conditions of hikikomoris differs from person to person. I know some friends who are hikikomoris now, and some who used to be. Some of them are able to go out and walk into the crowd, some of them still think about committing suicide from time to time. Although they are in different conditions, to me the problem is always there. This is about the next question that I want to ask you. How do you define hikikomori?
Vosot: That’s the hardest question, but at the same time it’s an obvious question. Everybody thinks about it. First of all, the official definition about hikikomori defined by the Ministry of Health and Labour, I think it doesn’t make sense. It’s been improved little by little, but it doesn’t capture the real image or real figure of hikikomori population. If I say this, “then what’s your alternative idea?” That question will come out obviously. I haven’t gotten any proper answer, and also nobody else. Because it’s simply very hard to define.
For example, myself, today I have come out of my room and I am here, which is not my hikikomori room. So I am not a hikikomori, it’s easy to say. But I think I am a hikikomori still. Most of the time I am in my room, I feel very troublesome and reluctance to go out of the room. And I am not good at meeting other people, I am not good at meeting other people, I am not good at going crowded area like downtown.
In the past, the tendency of my hikikomori has been maximized three times in life. The last time was from 1995 to 1999. During that time, I was literally locking myself up in my room. And also I hated to see the light from outside. I shut the heavy amado, the heavy Japanese steel windows, which shuts all lights up. I closed all of them, then your room becomes like a cave. I was living in a cave for four years. That’s more like a hikikomori. In another term, that period would be closer to the prototype image of a hikikomori which many other people would have. But that is not the only situation for a hikikomori in the real state. Now I come out like this but I am still a hikikomori. Maybe you know other active hikikomoris in Japan. That’s why it is so hard to define hikikomori.
But just an idea, I suggest, is why don’t you think that a person who defines himself or herself as a hikikomori, he is a hikikomori or she is a hikikomori, is there any inconvenience for that?
Lu: I think that makes sense.
...Continued to Round 2
...To the Japanese Version of this article.
...To the Chinese Version of this article
Lu Te-Hsing’s works span many fields, including publications, films, space design, event planning and art exhibitions. Originated from Taiwan, he is a current post-graduation student at Southern California Institute of Architecture, dedicating to filmmaking in Los Angeles.
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