Anime paints a particular picture Japan’s hikikomori population. They’re often the stars of isekai series, leaving behind a solitary life of junk food consumption and video games to go on a grand adventure. Alternatively, sometimes they’re featured in rom-coms like Eromanga Sensei as hermit-like artist types. In either case, hikikomori are high school or college dropouts, young adults shown to be squandering their gifts and youth with a bad attitude towards the rest of society. This outlook is usually depicted as something could be fixed with the right social or romantic connections.
Like most fiction, this simply isn’t a true representation of hikikomori and their struggles. In 2014, Asaichi, a Japanese news program on NHK, discussed the growing population of middle-aged hikikomori, spotlighting that this isn’t merely a phase young adults go through while adjusting to their new independence.
A new survey conducted by KHJ Zenkoku Hikikomori Kazokukai Rengōkai (KHJ National Hikikomori Association of Families Federation) revealed the average of hikikomori is 34.4 years old, four years higher than the average compared to 10 years ago. There are approximately 80 families taking part in the association in the Kochi prefecture branch. One family includes a mother with a son who has lived as a shut-in for many years. She stated that she wonders what will happen to her son if she dies.
The higher age of hikikomori also means an increased age in their family members turned caregivers. In March, KHJ released a statement explaining the “8050 problem” where parents in their 80s are responsible for caring for their unemployed 50-year-old children using their own retirement pensions. KHJ is hoping to alleviate some of that responsibility.
A former hikikomori shared his story with Mainichi Shimbun, referred to as “Mr. A.” Mr. A is in his mid-thirties and started life as a hikikomori after he quit going to school to avoid bullying in junior high. He graduated high school over an extended period but then dropped out of nursing school as his social phobia began to grow. Instead he attempted to complete vocational training but found himself growing tired of being concerned about other people all the time and began shutting himself in at home.
Mr. A began to turn his life around after his mother found a news article about 10 years ago and they attended a hikikomori support meeting. He started going out of the house for several hours once every two weeks and that habit eventually grew to longer time spent outside the home.
Chairman Isao Sakamoto said, “The hikikomori are isolated within their families and their families are isolated within society. They don’t have to blame themselves for their hikikomori family members. I want to tell them to live together and to please not suffer alone.”
The Japanese government estimated there are over half a million people between the ages of 15-39 living in social isolation in Japan.