Written by Vosot Ikeida and Francesco Pantò
The Cultural Climate in Sicily
Vosot How should I call you?
Fran My full name is Francesco, but it’s too long for Japanese people to pronounce, and it doesn’t fit me personally entirely , so everybody calls me Fran.
Vosot OK, Fran. Where did you come from?
Fran I came from a portal town called Messina in Sicily, Italy. The population is about 240,000, and it is the entrance from the Italian mainland. The famous resort called Taormina, where the G7 summit was held, is quite near.
I had lived with my parents and sister, in a small village called Nizza di sicilia, inhabited by about 3700 people, located between Messina and Taormina. My sister and I are dizygotic twins.
Fran I didn’t fit well with the cultural climate in Sicily. I thought a person like me should rather go to northern Italy to fit better, so I was thinking of going to a university in Rome or Milan.
I was already wanting to be a doctor when I was a high school student. My family is not one of the medical dynasties where everybody is a medical doctor, so I was never oppressed by my parents or relatives with the words like “You should become a doctor”.
In the countryside of Sicily, it was not common to go to university or college, especially in my parents’ generation. My mother is the only person among her sisters and brothers who went to university. She had successfully become a biologist despite that .
My father divorced with my mother when I was a kid, so he had nothing to say about my choice.
Vosot In Sicily, there is a friend of mine who supports me despite the distance(*1). I call her my Daughter-in-Sicily. She lives in a town that is not far from your hometown. She taught me many things about Sicily which I have never been to, so I am quite familiar with Sicily by now.
*1. Signifying the Sicilian highschool girl writing the articles together; Mariateresa. See "Sicilia-Tokyo Dialogue over Hikikomori Round 1"
Vosot Sicily is a deeply Catholic island. I heard that it is not allowed to divorce under Catholicism, but could your parents get divorced without any problem?
Fran Well, formally divorce is prohibited by Catholic church, and people are likely to frown upon those who are divorcing or got divorced, but the dogma that Church announces and the actual lives of people are steadily diverging nowadays. Among young people, you will not be discriminated against even if you got divorced. It is totally normal.
Vosot I see. And what did you do with your university?
Fran I wanted to enroll in a university in Rome or Milan, so I challenged myself with two different entrance examinations, and I ended up with passing two medical universities in Rome, one is national and the other is private. In Italy, a private university is usually better than a national one. Although the tuition for the private one is expensive, you can get a scholarship if your scores are high. So I managed to go to the Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, which is operated by the Vatican, and I studied and got trained at its affiliated hospital called Policlinico Universitario Agostino Gemellil. During that time, I was living alone in Rome for about six years and a half.
Vosot Sicily is an island floating in the Mediterranean, and there is this image of sunshine linked to it. A Japanese who traveled Sicily often says,
"The family ties are so strong there, so there will be no room for becoming a hikikomori"
However, my Daughter-in-Sicily had actually contacted with some hikikomori teenagers who live in Sicily. As a matter of the fact, Sicily also has hikikomori.
As a Sicilian who studies hikikomori, what do you think about the relationship between Sicilian environment and hikikomori?
Fran Since Sicily has a stereotyped image to be the sunshine island , it is understandable that people tend to think that there will be no hikikomori there, but compared to before, with the social media boom, the way of communication has been changed so much that the young generation is likely to get isolated even in Sicily, though it may be a bit less than in northern Italy.
It is no surprise to hear that Sicily has Hikikomori nowadays.
Vosot Have you made research about Hikikomori when you get back to your hometown in Sicily?
Fran No, I have not yet, but I was almost a Hikikomori by myself while living in Sicily.
Vosot What situation were you in? Tell me more about it, please.
Inclined to Shut Myself in Sicily
Fran Sicily has no big city really. Everybody lives there following the same life-style, the same ideas, and the same way to live. The pressure to conform is very high. So if you don’t live in the same way as they are, you will get isolated quickly.
In Sicily, diversity of lifestyle is not mostly approved. The father is always supposed to be powerful in a family. We have strong requirements in our society to tell that a man should be like this, a woman should be like that. In Italy, the more southern you go, the stronger the tendency is found. Sicily is the southernmost anyway.
Vosot A generation ago, there was a movie called “Godfather”. They said it described what Sicily was like quite well.
Fran Oh yes. We have that cultural environment almost exactly, fortunately nowadays is changing slowly, so today is not perfectly accurate.
That being said, I didn't feel happy before I moved to Rome to go to my university. For example, I am an Italian but I am not interested in soccer at all. That fact made me isolated too.
I always had an inclination toward something feminine since I was a child. Even when other boys were playing soccer outside, I was playing Sailor Moon or watching "Sailor Moon" on TV with other girls. This experience is related to the fact that I came to think in the later years that Japanese living environment may fit me better.
I wanted so badly to play like "Sailor Moon" despite being a boy, but the people around me in Sicily only looked at me with a puzzled face or made fun of me. They asked, "Why are you interested in such things?", "Why don't you play soccer?". Nowadays we are more sensitive toward gender expression and we know how it is perfectly normal that everybody is different and variegated. However, in those years I had no choice but to become like a hikikomori in such an environment. Today, I am rather very proud of my uniqueness in gender expression. I want to inspire people with it .
Vosot Earlier you said you were dizygotic twins with your sister, but was your sister also almost like a hikikomori?
Fran No. She wasn’t like me at all. She had no problem to get adapted to the surroundings. She lives in Messina still now. People always said that I looked sad all the time while my sister looked cheerful. Now in Japan, I look happy like my sister did.
Vosot When you say your sister looked cheerful, does it mean being cheerful as Italian or Sicilian is expected to be, according to the sense of the average Japanese person?
Fran Oh yes. She was the type of person always eating delicious foods and enjoying life with little things!
Vosot Then, has your sister accepted her femininity without any resistance?
Fran Yes, perfectly.
Vosot Was it also because you wanted to get out of Sicily that you chose to go to a university in Rome?
Fran That’s right. I wanted to acquire a living environment where I can be myself. In Rome, my life became fairly easier.
・・・To the Japanese version of this article
・・・To the Italian version of this article
・・・Continued to Round 2