Text by Vosot Ikeida
Translated by Finch
...Continued from Part 1
Expanding the Notion of “Hikikomori”
A young, unmarried Japanese male who never comes out of his bedroom on the 2nd floor's furthermost corner of the house his parents sweated to build, having his mother bring him meals to his doorstep, and doing nothing but play video games.
As explained in Part 1, the above "prototypical image of hikikomori" was created around 2000. Since then, it has taken root as Japan’s and all other countries' typical representation of hikikomori. For the past two or three years, however, the specifications restricting the image of withdrawers to this stereotype have blown up one after the other. Now you can be a hikikomori even if:
– you are not young;
– you are not a boy;
– you are married;
– you have a child;
– you are able to leave your room;
– you have a lot of activities;
– you are employed/working;
– you do not live in Japan.
This is because cases that were not meeting the requirements that had defined hikikomori until now started to be either “discovered”, “pointed out” or “coming out” one by one. This shift has forced people to enlarge their notion of what "hikikomori" is, while the categories of people eligible to public hikikomori support also got more diversified. If these target categories expanded a while ago (with “hikikomori” becoming “social hikikomori”), they're even larger now, as of December 2018, they gave birth to the following words:
Subjective Hikikomori (shukanteki hikikomori / 主観的ひきこもり)
Even if the person can't be objectively perceived as a withdrawer from their behavior and lifestyle, they nonetheless consider themselves as hikikomori.
Inner Hikikomori (shinsei hikikomori / 心性ひきこもり)
Someone who doesn't seem to be a hikikomori from the outside, but (claims that) they have a hikikomori heart deep inside.
Working Hikikomori (kinrô hikikomori / 勤労ひきこもり）
A person who is already working and earning a salary, but only makes round trips from their workplace to their room, and has no other human relationship. Also known as "Post-Work Hikikomori” (posuto-shurô hikikomori / ポスト就労ひきこもり / PWH).
Hikikomori Fellows (hikikomori shinwagun / ひきこもり親和群）
Persons who have no shut-in experience yet, but (assert they) understand hikikomori's state of mind, since they don't know when they will withdraw too.
Hikikomori-like（hikikomori-kei / ひきこもり系）
Someone who is not a hikikomori, but looks more or less like one.
Below Hikikomori （hikikomori miman / ひきこもり未満）
A person who will not go as far as becoming a hikikomori, but who got isolated from society, and subsequently lost their way. (According to Ikegami Masaki.)
Despite adopting different angles and levels of details, isn't all of this terminology actually depicting the same kind of thing?
Daring to Present Oneself as a “Hikikomori”
Looking at this phenomenon, some people raise questions like: “why do people so badly want to be a hikikomori?”. What they are thinking, here, is: “hikikomori or not, as long as it's located on that tricky boundary line, I would certainly not put myself voluntarily into such a socially disdained category”.
I am one of the tojisha who are asked such questions. When being interviewed by the media as a hikikomori, I've already been told out of the blue: “but it you can go outside like that, there's no need to present yourself as a hikikomori anymore, is there?”. And even more so when I appear on television. Of course, that kind of question will naturally come about if you're only looking at me when I go outside.
But to me, going out is an unusual thing.
Speaking in those “hare” (= unusual, ceremonial) and “ke” (= usual, of daily life) terms we have in Japan (*1), going outside corresponds to my “hare” times. You don't see the “everyday me”, the “ke” me, in my room, bedridden and unable to move.
*1. "hare" and "ke"
Originally used in folklore studies and cultural anthropology, these two notions classify the time of Japanese people’s life in an usual/unusual dichotomy. The term "hare", which is said to have derived from the word meaning "sunny weather", refers to unusual events such as rituals and festivals, whereas "ke" refers to everyday life, when anything special does not occur.
I'm the only one who can see this everyday side of myself.
And I can hide it, if I feel like doing so.
Nevertheless, why do we choose to adopt this socially disdained position of "hikikomori" and talk as such? "I want to be on the side of the weak of society", some would answer, but personally, I can't say that, I'm too ashamed to say that. If you really want to stand by the weak of society, there are dozens of things to do, like connecting to social resources low-class tojisha excluded from the entire social system — "subaltern tojisha", as I call them. I know the feeling of incompetence and helplessness that raises when you can't do so.
After all, advocating one's motivation “to be on the side of the weak of society” can also be, quite often, an attempt to gather interest from society, using for one's advantage somebody socially weaker than oneself. Even a tojisha of hikikomori is eventually driven by their ego. In my case —and I'm a mass of particularly trivial desires—, there's a fear that "if I'm not recognized as a hikikomori, I'll lose my right to speak”. Obviously, it would be an exaggeration to say that I'm precisely choosing this hikikomori identity in order to maintain my right to speak, but I think there could only be a gap between my present condition and my words if I were to speak out as a “non-hikikomori”.
Also, no longer being able to speak is connected to the fear of renouncing to the one space where you can receive some care from society. Actually, even if you're not receiving much care from society now, your stingy heart would perhaps like to keep some room for receiving something in the future, like an allowance. Isn't it something you can say about many hikikomori (or former hikikomori) who choose this identity even though they look "non-hikikomori" in appearance? That's why you'll probably find underhanded reasons if you analyze the deep psychology of those who adopt this identity when in a position to choose either being “hikikomori” or “non-hikikomori”. However, according to those who make such a choice, the social status of hikikomori has improved a lot until now. So, it is not necessarily a choice you can despise as “calculating”.
The “Hikikomori” Inflation
Then, if the concept of "hikikomori" has got broader, this diversification, in itself, has also been pointed out as a problem. It indeed brings the fear that the expansion of the notion will undermine the meaning that had initially given its shape to the notion of hikikomori. People supporting this point of view usually say:
“As we gradually expand the ‘hikikomori’ category, people will think they can become eligible to support by saying they're hikikomori; they're gonna jump into the hikikomori bandwagon thinking it's a boom. As greedy people develop misrepresentations of what a hikikomori is, won't there be a significant increase of ‘hikikomori impersonators’?Meanwhile, isn't anybody and everybody going to become a hikikomori?Then, what the heck did we create this term for?Won't those needing real support have trouble getting such assistance?”
Behind these voices, there's also some pessimism:
“So, we shouldn't have created this ‘hikikomori’ word in the first place.Distinction soon produces discrimination. Present-day hikikomori would not be discriminated if they weren't called like that.”
Indeed, if we consider just one side of the phenomenons around hikikomori, these opinions may certainly be worth listening to. And since the phenomenon called “hikikomori” is really multifaceted, if you try to catch it, there are chances your point of view may be one-sided. Looking at it from a broader perspective, I think we could also say: although it's the same thing for every label disdained by society (and not only for "hikikomori"), non-hikikomori people, when they voluntarily designate themselves as “hikikomori”, always have a reason to do so in the deepest part of their hearts. Since the wounds they bear are not apparent, they can't openly suffer in front of people. So they put on themselves this negative label already used by society, and by doing so, they give themselves the right to suffer from the pain caused by these invisible wounds.
In this way, both people pretending to be "hikikomori" and people truly being so will, after all, be running out to the one space where they can share the same problem. They will, both of them, become comrades sharing the same wounds of the heart.
Was the “Hikikomori” Word Superfluous?
So, looking back at things with this two-part article, we find out that since the casual word "hikikomori" — which seems to have been part of the Japanese lexicon since the Heian period — has been given a new meaning in the 1980s and sent out to society, some problems occur due to the large “hikikomori” lexicon that subsequently came to light. But would things really be better if we hadn't created this word in the first place?
As I said earlier, many people think so, and I much understand their opinion. But, all in all, I think it was a good thing the term “hikikomori” has been sent out to the world with its new meaning, namely, its present meaning. Weighing the pros and the cons, I rather see advantages there. Because such is my experience:
In the 1980s, when I started to be a hikikomori (as we mean it today), I had a horrible time since this convenient word did not exist yet. Writing it was “horrible” instantly makes things lighter, but actually, I fell into such a distress that I wondered if my life hadn't already come to an end — if I shouldn't die, then. I did not know how to explain my condition to people around me: I was not working, and could not go out of my room. It's not exactly that “I did not know how” to tell them; I rather had no way to tell them. There was no way to tell others what was going on.
I had no words.
No vocabulary for that.
I couldn't explain it.
As we go there, the fact this one word "hikikomori" now exists makes the situation completely different, even though its definition is ambiguous. Of course, even if there's a word for that, one has some hurdle to overcome before admitting they are concerned. But if only I'd had this “hikikomori” word back then, I would have been able to tell those who were coming and trying to bring me out who-knows-where:
"I don't know how this happened, but... I’ve become a hikikomori”.
By saying this, maybe my friends would have made a fool of me, but anyway, this would have enabled them to more or less “get” what my situation is. Even if they would not “understand” it, they would at least “get” the idea. Anyway, it's okay. They would leave me and go away. For someone who can't move, this is the easiest solution. “How about solitude and isolation?” — now, that's a more advanced solution. Truly, when I can't move, being taken out against my own will is way more painful than the “loneliness” of being left behind.
Since I did not have the proper word to explain my condition to those around me, I was ultimately drove to the wall, coming to contemplate unwise perspectives like “Let's go to Africa and die” (*2).
Even if the H-word was to Ⅾisappear Soon
That's why I think it's a nice thing the word “hikikomori” was born. We just need to fight the discrimination this term causes. The suffering coming from this battle, in my case, is still a small one compared to the pain I felt when there was no such word, when I could not be express myself.
As the notion of hikikomori is going to expand more and more from now on, the meaning associated to this term may become at some point obsolete. Perhaps the notion will keep on expanding to such an extent it won't make sense the word “hikikomori” keeps on existing too, but even if things were going to turn out like that, I'd still think it was a nice thing we had this term for a while. Good things we had, even temporarily, were “good” things anyway. When this will happen, we'll probably say this notion was like the additional line of a geometrical problem.
A line had to be drawn there, in order to solve the problem. But if the problem is solved, then this additional line is no longer necessary. Also, if the notion of "hikikomori" was to spread a bit too much, we'll eventually reach a point when everyone and anyone is a hikikomori. It will be understood that so-called "ordinary people", too, actually have “hikikomori sides”. Won't that make a lot of people aware that after all,
"Hikikomori are not to be blamed",
"Hikikomori are not a problem",
"There’s no use in trying to force them to work" ?
Now, if I'm repeating the word "hikikomori" this much, it's also because I want society to acknowledge the fact that "hikikomori are a strata of population existing in every human society; there is no need to make them a problem in the way we are doing now". To put it another way, I'm using the H-word so as society doesn't make them a problem anymore.
... To the Japanese version of this article