Written by Vosot Ikeida & Mariateresa Carrabotta
< Profiles >
Vosot Ikeida：55 year-old tojisha(*) of hikikomori living in the Tokyo, Japan.
Mariateresa: 16 year-old student of a high school for science. Trying to be a supporter for hikikomoris.
tojisha (当事者): Japanese term whose abstract meaning makes translation difficult and complex. Generally, it signifies a person who identifies oneself as belonging to a given group or condition, or simply, a person who has a certain character or attribute by oneself. Therefore, it almost always requires the presence of a complement of specification that determines the "category" of belonging (e.g, "tojisha of hikikomori"). Usually opposed to "the third party", "observer" etc.
...Continued from Round 1
Why Empathy To Hikikomoris
Vosot: After we published the first outcome of our collaborative work as Round 1, we have received many feedbacks from the readers. We are so grateful for all those.
Mariateresa: Thank you very much, everybody.
Vosot: A few of them were the question to you, Mariateresa. “Why you feel so much empathy to hikikomoris?”
Mariateresa: Well, I’d like to answer it here. I used to be a more introspective, shy girl until a few years ago. I often disagreed with several aspects of today's society. Still I do not accept some social conventions because I think they are wrong. Though it is just my small contribution, I always try to turn things for the better as far as I can.
Vosot: Could you specify why and how you distrust some aspects of today’s society?
Mariateresa: Okay, the Italian society which I live in has a lot of problems socially and culturally. It often happens that the politicians know what their tasks and responsibilities are, but they pretend not to know them. They are hypocrites, so they never conclude anything. In other words, they talk a lot to get the backing of the populace, but in the end, they act little. And they take benefits by using their positions.
Vosot: Ah, hum. It happens in every country.
Mariateresa: Even from the social point of view, some Italian people seem to be indifferent to relevant social issues, as if they were inert, psychologically numb, and used to the pessimistic current situation. If I were to describe the current situation in a few words, I would use the words: negligence and indifference.
Vosot: I admire your attitude to try to think of your society critically, but I was not like you. Looking back at myself, I was not so premature as you are to disagree with the society. My mind, at childhood, was busy to disagree with the family I had to put myself in. In those days, the society was, for me, an unknown world spread out of my family. As far as I did not know it, I could not have even resentment against it.
Mariateresa: Didn’t you think of politics when you were a high school boy?
Vosot: Yes, I did actually. At your age, 16, I was speaking out a lot of political matters boastfully, though in fact I didn’t know many real things about them. I was the president of the student union at my high school, so I had many occasions to speak out. But in my personal case, the reason I was doing so was not because I was truly angry with the politics in my country or the situation of this world. I thought I looked to be “adultish” and could stand at a superior position to my friends, if I spoke out political things. They were empty utterances caused just from my desire to be approved, which was not fulfilled at home by my parents. I needed to make a brace vacantly like that, in order to keep my “self” being denied and crushed by my mother.
Mariateresa: In my school too there is a similar system to what you call “student union” and several guys in my school are in fact dealing with politics. In my case, although I have just mentioned the political situation in Italy, I am not particularly attracted by this field, this is why I keep away from positions such as the “representative of the students” or similar.
Hikikomori and the Outer World
Vosot: Well, you cannot simply generalize my case. After all, I can talk about my own case only. Many hikikomoris have a lot of anger, resentment, or even scorn against the outer world. They only find stupidity and hypocrisy in the society that is spread outside of their hikikomori room. Many of tojishas of hikikomori, whether in Japan or Europe, are like that. Do you find some part of these common with you?
Mariateresa: Yes, I do. I think the same thing as hikikomoris and I agree with the hikikomoris’ viewpoint, but I am a person who has decided to react in a different way from a hikikomori. And I think that is why I am a supporter of hikikomori. As I am different from a hikikomori, I started to seek for an ideal correspondence between me and hikikomori.
Vosot: It sounds wonderful. I can hear the difference and similarity between hikikomori and you. Your frustration against the society and your disgust against the adult sound me to be very concrete, social, and extroverted. On the contrary, those held by hikikomoris are usually more vague, symbolic, and introverted.
Mariateresa: Why do you think that is?
Vosot: I think that is mostly because a hikikomori has problems in the ability to sustain human relationships. It may be various how we started to be a hikikomori, such as “being abused by parent”, “being bullied at school”, “My family was ostracised from the village” and so on, but in any case, usually a hikikomori is a person who could not acquire the good early stage to build a relationship on the basic trust with the others at the root. For example, do you have many friends?
Mariateresa: Yes, I do, although I am very selective in friendships.
Vosot: Your friends are not hikikomoris, are they?
Mariateresa: No, they are not.
What a Hikikomori Can Not
Vosot: In my view, a person who has many friends who are not hikikomoris is very likely not to be a hikikomori. In my case, I could not make close friends for many many years. In these years, I have had some friends, but they are all hikikomoris more or less. I feel, “the world view” or “how to look at the world” is different from the root, between a hikikomori and another person who is not a hikikomori.
Mariateresa: I am not sure if I had no problem at human relationships. As I said earlier, I used to be a very timid and introverted girl. I always looked around, observing others and their behaviors. I always found myself looking at the world from another perspective and thinking about things that other children of my age would never have considered.
Vosot: I think the fact shows just that you were an intellectually premature girl. You adapted yourself quite well to your school community, even if you felt like watching your friends from the outside, didn’t you?
Mariateresa: Yes. Though I had some difficulties at the beginning, I have always been able to integrate myself to and get my place in the school community. But I also believe that I have been lucky to be surrounded by easy-going and reliable people. That is why now I can take the stance to say, “I think the same things as a hikikomori does, but I have decided to react differently”
Vosot: I think that even some hikikomoris are partly thinking “I would like to react differently” but she or he cannot do so actually. In other terms, the matter is not “which to react” but “can or cannot”.
Mariateresa: Can you make it more concrete?
Vosot: For example, let’s assume here is a friend of yours, who has broken his leg. If you say to him, “Hey, it’s a beautiful day today. It is nice to run outside. I’m gonna run. Don’t you run?”, what would happen. He would say, “I wanna run, but I can’t.” Then he wouldn’t have to try to take the same choice as you did. Thinking about his broken leg, he may fulfill his time with his own way, such as reading books indoor instead of running outside.
Mariateresa: Of course, it makes sense.
Vosot: I am comparing “reading books indoor” to “being a hikikomori”. At the beginning, becoming a hikikomori was not what I wanted, but after many years, now I am convinced with the path I have been through. Even if I committed myself to be my present self which is a hikikomori now, I have never committed myself to become a hikikomori initially, and they are not contradicted inside me.
Mariateresa: It's clear. It is as if you had become aware of your condition gradually and with the passage of time you realized that what you have become is actually what you want to be.
Vosot: It may be more precise to say, with the passage of time, I have come to accept what I am, regardless of what I want to be, and I have come to search for what I want to do among the limited choices.
Mariateresa: You've never regretted becoming a hikikomori though it did not fit into your initial plans.
Vosot: I do have regrets. Looking back, my life has been full of regrets and errors, though I am somehow satisfied with my being hikikomori today.
Mariateresa: Got it. After all, this kind of feeling is understandable. But I want to ask you if the regrets you have are directly related to the fact that you have become a hikikomori or even to other matters that marked your life?
Vosot: Superficially my answer is the latter. But deeply thinking, every single event in my life, however trivial it is, may be somehow connected to what I am now. For example, I still regret that I introduced my first girlfriend whom I met at the university, to my parents. Then my mother said terrible things to her, and I could not protect her enough. Consequently we broke up. This incident looks to have no relation with the fact that I am a hikikomori now, but I could also tell that it was the beginning for me to step into a life without marriage nor having a child, which is certainly the extension of a hikikomori life.
Mariateresa: I see. Now I can fully understand the entity of your regret.
Vosot: You are really a premature girl, but some hikikomoris and futoko(*) children are really intellectually premature as well. So, prematureness must be related sometimes to the reason one becomes a hikikomori. However, there are other people who were certainly premature but did not become a hikikomori and did make a great social achievement. We have to think why this difference occurs, and we should not confuse “hikikomori” and “prematureness”.
futoko (不登校): Japanese term meaning "not going to school" or "boy/girl who decided not to go to school".
Mariateresa: That’s for sure. You well highlighted this important difference. Everything also depends on one's own will and ability to know how to adapt oneself to various circumstances.
Is It a Problem of Will?
Vosot: You well highlighted the crucial point, too. Will and ability. Yes, and this “will” is a really profound issue. Let me look back to my personal experience again.
When I became a hikikomori in 1985 for the first time, it was started from my mental disease, depression. And I certainly had my own will to take a move to get into the society. The more I tried to have the will to move, the less I could move actually. I was so shocked because previously I had been believed that a power of will was almighty. I could not help adapting myself to the new reality that I had never experienced, where a will was nothing.
The result that I adapted myself to the new reality was, after all, to survive as a hikikomori. A will is such a complicated thing.
Mariateresa: As you say, this is a very profound issue. Actually, one must neither underestimate the value of will nor overestimate it. In my opinion, the will is endowed with a considerable persuasive force, but up to a certain limit. And this limit is established by the unconscious. Even if, as it is used to say, "wanting is being able to" this is true only if the unconscious consents it to be so.
And it is also the reason why I think you have been displaced by the ineffectiveness of these attempts to convince yourself, despite your efforts. In some ways, your subconscious may have opposed your own will to act differently.
Vosot: That’s right. One usually has many ways to explain the reason to have become a hikikomori, but in my case, one of the ways is “My subconscious stopped me from diving into the society of normal people, so I became a hikikomori”.
Mariateresa: You could say so.
Vosot: In the year I became unable to move and started to be a hikikomori, coincidentally the result of a famous experiment about the human will was published by an American psychologist and neurologist, Benjamin Libet.
Mariateresa: I have heard about that experiment too.
Vosot: Before the experiment, we used to think, “At first, he has a will to do something. Thereafter, his body starts to move to do the action to realize it.” However, the experiment showed the result in the opposite. At first, a command to cause movement of the body occured in the brain wave of the examinee, and then the will was born, and after that, the body actually moved. That is to say, the will is not the first to exist.
Mariateresa: That’s right. If we reflect a moment on this, we realize that very few of the actions we do every day are dictated by our own will. Even the “voluntary muscles” move in some cases because our mind is unknowingly induced to send stimuli to these muscles and to make them move. For example, if I am sitting on a chair and by chance I move my elbow to take a more comfortable position, it is a voluntary action but at the same time I cannot say I had the will to do so. This is a trivial example, but that's what happens to me every day and certainly I do not always notice it, because it is not an event of considerable importance and my will has no relevance in this actually.
The Result of the Libet's Experiment
The horizontal axis is time, and the vertical axis is the voltage of the electroencephalogram. It shows the process of noticing your intention after starting action.
Vosot: The Libet’s experiment was to measure the time in the very short unit like “millisecond”, so I cannot apply the result simply to my case that I became unable to move to be a hikikomori without having a will to do so. And there may be a difference in the problems between “to become a hikikomori” and “to stay being a hikikomori”. However, it was proven that after a command to execute an action is issued in the nerve system, the feeling of “I want that...”, as you say “the conscious ego”, is born. At least it denies the totipotency of the will.
Mariateresa: That's a good point. Based on this, we can further discuss on the thesis that a will is subordinated to our unconsciousness in any case, that applies to everything. Although Dr. Libet has analyzed this neurological mechanism from an objective and empirical point of view, he has questioned the effectiveness of our “free will” after all.
Vosot: Yes, it is a big question if a free will really exists. In the experiments in 1983, what was adopted for the experiment was just simple body movements, such as “to lift the wrist”, but in later years, more complicated cognitive phenomena such as “to verbalize” or “to write some letters” were adopted for the same purpose of experiment, and they all reached the same conclusion.(*1)
*1:Benjamin Libet, Mind Time: The Temporal Factor in Consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2004. pp. 137-156,
Mariateresa: I see. I reflect on myself. For example, when we talk to someone, we do so in a rather spontaneous way without planning in advance what we intend to say.
Vosot: When one becomes a hikikomori, one’s subconscious may grasp much more information than one’s conscious ego does. At this moment, the person is giving up the active ideas to dive into the society and to reform it or to change the world. Because becoming a hikikomori is a way of recognition for powerlessness.
Mariateresa: Why do you give up?
Vosot: Let me take two reasons. The first one is because we are so busy with their inner world that we cannot have any more mental capacity to think carefully of the business of the outer world, such as the politics or the tidy social life. The second reason is because she or he was premature enough to know one’s own limit of capacity. We don’t do something we can’t, from the beginning.
Mariateresa: That point of view is also understandable. After all, those who tend to be private and closed in oneself by nature is more likely to end up becoming a hikikomori.
Vosot: In my opinion, their determination to be a hikikomori, which can be conscious or subconscious, may be coming from a certain recognition, “It is impossible to fight against the outer world.”
I am a hikikomori, so I actually think so quite often. Their abandonment that we no longer try to commit ourselves in earnest to something in the society is, I presume, partly coming from the extension of our prematureness and/or immatureness.
Mariateresa: I understand what you say. Of course, everyone is acting the only things which he sees to be fit himself and believes that it is more fair and coherent with himself.
Vosot: Yes, that’s right. In the end, it will be the problem how the hikikomoris would think, when you say “I used to think the way you do, but I have decided to react differently”. Some of them may feel it as just a cold distance with you, thinking, “OK, you can react differently, but I can’t.” Then the support you offer may not succeed. It is so difficult to be a supporter for hikikomoris.
Mariateresa: I am fully aware that the role of a supporter is not easy at all, but I believe that the balance of the relationship between a tojisha of hikikomori and a supporter is both delicate and essential. This balance also lies in the fact that the tojisha and the supporter have different experiences that can be shared and more or less accepted by each other. It may enrich both of them from the different points of view to observe the same situation. Let's deepen this issue on the next Rounds.
...Continued to Round 3
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