Skip to main content

Japanese post-modern social renouncers: An exploratory study of the narratives of Hikikomori subjects

Abstract

The aim of this research is to transmit and comment on the authentic voices of socially withdrawn subjects and to contribute toward refining subjective inquiry in contemporary Japan. Here, I detail the cases of four individuals visiting Japanese Non Profit Organizations between August 2011 and August 2012. In accordance with my findings, I define socially withdrawn individuals as post-modern social renouncers. Hikikomori should not be reduced to a mental disorder but should be seen as an idiom of distress and a modality where one can recognize him/herself as a subject, or a mode of enjoyment. I suggest ways of improving qualitative methodology and directions for future research at the intersection of cultural history, anthropology, and subjectivity theory.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. I won’t mention here the massive amount of articles published by Japanese journalists and researchers in Japanese newspapers and journals since the late nineties. For more details in the increase of these articles, see Figure 6.1 in Horiguchi (2012).

  2. Hikikomori in Japan is the phenomenon of social withdrawal that effects hundreds of thousands individuals, in which the individual shuts his/herself in their room generally at their family’s home for several months and even years without social relationships.

  3. More precisely a Chinese living in Canada (Chong and Chan, 2012).

  4. Ueyama (2001) was one of the first to write a book about his own hikikomori experience. During this meeting Katsuyama was here. He also wrote a book published the same year (in January while Mister Ueyama’s book was published in December) and another, more recently (Katsuyama, 2001, 2011).

  5. I met them with four other members of the Paris Descartes research team (Ōtake, 2011a). For practical and methodological reasons I decided to focus on their accounts available in a Japanese website related to school non-attendance (futōkō): http://www.futoko.org/special/special-30/page0802-703.htmlhttp://www.futoko.org/special/special-30/page0823-708.html

  6. ‘Sono toki ni, “17 nen tatte, yatto watashi no futōkō ga owatta, hitokugiri tsuita na” to kanjimashita ne.’

  7. Minna isshōkenmei ganbatten no ni, o mae wa nan ya!

  8. Although he said previously ‘the first year was like holidays’.

  9. Unpublished seminar (16 June 1965’s session) available online: http://gaogoa.free.fr/

References

  • American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th Edition: DSM-5 [Paperback]. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.

  • Balibar, E. (1989) Citoyen sujet. Réponse à la question de Jean-Luc Nancy: Qui vient après le sujet? Cahiers confrontation 20: 23–47.

    Google Scholar 

  • Befu, H. (2001) Hegemony of Homogeneity: An Anthropological Analysis of Nihonjinron. Melbourne, Australia: Trans Pacific Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Borovoy, A. (2008) Japan’s hidden youths: Mainstreaming the emotionally distressed in Japan. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 32: 52–56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brinton, M.C. (2011) Lost in Transition: Youth, Work, and Instability in Postindustrial Japan. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Callus, I. and Herbrechter, S. (2012) Introduction: Posthumanist Subjectivities, or, Coming after the Subject. Subjectivity 5(Special issue: Posthumanist subjectivities): 241–264.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Castel, P.-H. (2012) La Fin des coupables, suivi de Le Cas Paramord. vol. II: Obsessions et contrainte intérieure, de la psychanalyse aux neurosciences. Philosophie, Anthropologie, Psychologie Paris, France: Ithaque.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chong, S.S. and Chan, K.-M. (2012) A case study of a Chinese ‘Hikikomorian’ in Canada – theorizing the process of Hikikomorization. Journal of Special Education and Rehabilitation: 99–114.

  • Dumont, L. (1966) Homo hierarchicus. Essai sur le système des castes. Paris, France: Gallimard.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dumont, L. (1983) Essai sur l’individualisme. Paris, France: Le Seuil.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ehrenberg, A. (2010) La Société Du Malaise. Le Mental et Le Social. Paris, France: Odile Jacob.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fansten, M. (2013) Se retirer dans une société de communication – l’exemple du hikikomori. In: S. Lepastier (ed.) L’incommunication. Paris, France: CNRS éditions, Essentiel Hermès, pp. 71–88.

    Google Scholar 

  • Furlong, A. (2008) The Japanese Hikikomori phenomenon: Acute social withdrawal among young people. The Sociological Review 56 (2): 309–325.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Furuhashi, T., Tsuda, H. and Ogawa, T. (2013) État des lieux, points communs et différences entre des jeunes adultes retirants sociaux en France et au Japon (Hikikomori). L’Évolution Psychiatrique 78 (2): 249–266.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Garcia-Campayo, J., Alda, M., Sobradiel, N. and Sanz Abós, B. (2007) A case report of Hikikomori in Spain. Medicina Clinica (Barcelona) 129 (8): 318–319.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gariup, M., Parellada, E., Garcia, C. and Bernardo, M. (2008) Hikikomori o esquizofrenia simple? Medicina Clinica (Barcelona) 130 (18): 716–719.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goodman, R. (2012) From pitiful to privileged? The fifty year story of the changing perception and status of Japan’s returnee children (kikokushijo). In: G. Roger, I. Yuki and T. Tuukka (eds.) A Sociology of Japanese Youth, From Returnees to Neet. Oxon, UK: Routledge, pp. 30–53, Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies.

    Google Scholar 

  • Groleau, D., Young, A. and Kirmayer, L.J. (2006) The McGill illness narrative interview (MINI): An interview schedule to elicit meanings and modes of reasoning related to illness experience. Transcultural Psychiatry 43 (4): 671–691.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Guedj-Bourdiau, M.-J. (2011) Claustration à domicile de l’adolescent Hikikomori. Annales Médico-Psychologiques 169 (10): 668–673.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hook, D. and Neill, C. (2008) Perspectives on ‘Lacanian subjectivities’. Subjectivity 24: 247–255.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Horiguchi, S. (2012) Hikikomori: How private isolation caught the public eye. In: G. Roger, I. Yuki and T. Tuukka (eds.) A Sociology of Japanese Youth, From Returnees to Neet. Oxon, UK: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Itoh, K. (2012) Difficulties faced by Hikikomori: From the life history in autobiographies and private papers. Kwansei Gakuin Sociological Review: 137–141.

  • Jones, M. (2006) Shutting Themselves in. New York Times.

  • Kaneko, S. (2006) Japan’s ‘Socially withdrawn youths’ and time constraints in Japanese society: Management and conceptualization of time in a support group for Hikikomori. Time & Society 15 (2/3): 233–249.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kato, T. et al (2012) Does the Hikikomori syndrome of social withdrawal exist outside Japan ? A preliminary international investigation. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 47 (7): 1061–1075.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Katsuyama, M. (2001) Hikikomori karendā. Tokyo: Bunshun nesuko.

    Google Scholar 

  • Katsuyama, M. (2011) Anshin hikikomori raifu. Tokyo: Oota shuppan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kim, J., Ronald, M.R., Kyung, J.O. and Hye-Shin, M. (2008) Retrospective report of social withdrawal during adolescence and current maladjustment in young adulthood: Cross-cultural comparisons between Australian and South Korean students. Journal of Adolescence 31 (5): 543–563.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kinba, M. (2010) Futōkō, hikikomori kokoro no kaisetsusho – boku ga hikikomori datta toki ni ienakatta koto. Tōkyō, Japan: Manabi rinku.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kitanaka, J. (2012) Depression in Japan, Psychiatric Cures for a Society in Distress. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kondo, N., Sakai, M., Kuroda, Y., Kiyota, Y., Kitabata, Y. and Kurosawa, M. (2011) General condition of Hikikomori (prolonged social withdrawal) in Japan: Psychiatric diagnosis and outcome in mental healths welfare centres. International Journal of Social Psychiatry: 1–8.

  • Kōsei rōdō shō (Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare) (2010) Hikikomori no hyōka / shien ni kansuru gaidorain, http://www.mhlw.go.jp/stf/houdou/2r98520000006i6f.html, accessed 18 June 2015.

  • Krieg, A. and Dickie, J.R. (2011) Attachment and Hikikomori: A psychosocial developmental model. International Journal of Social Psychiatry: 1–12.

  • Lacan, J. (2001) Autres Écrits. Paris: Seui.

    Google Scholar 

  • Latour, B. (1991) Nous n’avons jamais été modernes. Essai d’anthropologie symétrique. Paris, France: La Découverte.

    Google Scholar 

  • Layton, L. (2008) What divides the subject? Psychoanalytic reflections on subjectivity, subjection and resistance. Subjectivity 22: 60–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lee, Y.S., Lee, J.Y., Choi, T.Y. and Choi, J.T. (2013) Home visitation program for detecting, evaluating and treating socially withdrawn youth in Korea. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 67 (4): 193–202.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lock, M. (1993) Encounters with Aging. Mythologies of Menopause in Japan and North America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lyotard, J.-F. (1979) La condition postmoderne. Rapport sur le savoir. Paris, France: Éditions de Minuit.

    Google Scholar 

  • Malagon, A. (2010) Hikikomori: A new diagnosis or a syndrome associated with a psychiatric diagnosis? International Journal of Social Psychiatry 56 (5): 558–559.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miller, A.L. and Toivonen, T. (2010) To discipline or accommodate? On the rehabilitation of Japanese ‘problem youth’. The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus [online], http://www.japanfocus.org/-aaron-miller/3368.

  • Miller, J.-A. dir. (1988) Lacan et la Chose japonaise. Paris, France: Navarin éditeurs, diffusion Seuil.

    Google Scholar 

  • Morisaki, S. (2012) Kankei no yamai toshite no ‘hikikomori’ – hikikomori tōjisha hon no bunseki o tooshite -. Kyōto daigaku daigakuin kyōikugaku kenkyūka kiyō 58: 275–287.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moroboshi, N. (2003) Hikikomori sekirarara. Tōkyō, Japan: Sōshisha.

    Google Scholar 

  • Murasawa, W. (2012) Saikiteki purosesu toshite no ‘hikikomori’. Shinri kagaku 33 (1): 61–74.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nakanishi, S. and Ueno, C. (2003) Tōjisha shuken. Tōkyō, Japan: Iwanami Shoten.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nichter, M. (1981) Idioms of distress: Alternatives in the expression of psychosocial distress. A case study from South India. Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry 5 (4): 379–408.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ogino, T. (2004) Managing categorization and social withdrawal in Japan: rehabilitation process in a private support group for Hikikomorians. International Journal of Japanese Sociology 13: 120–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Okabe, A., Aoki, H., Hukaya, H. and Saito, M. (2012) Hikikomoru wakamono no katari ni miru ‘futsū’ he no toraware to kattō — hikikomoru wakamono he no intabyū chōsa kara —. Ritsumeikan ningen kagaku kenkyū 25: 67–80.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ōtake, T (2011a) French Researchers Seek ‘Raison d’Être’ of Hikikomori. The Japan Times. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2011/11/20/general/french-researchers-seek-raison-detre-of-hikikomori/#.UgYFD7xhr9I.

  • Ōtake, T. (2011b) Social recluse transforms himself into ‘English Monster’. The Japan Timeshttp://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2011/08/21/general/social-recluse-transforms-himself-into-english-monster/#.UgYFc7xhr9I.

  • Parker, I. (2008) Japan in Analysis. Cultures of the Unconscious. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sagliocco, G. et al. (2011) Hikikomori e adolescenza. Fenomenologia dell’autoreclusione. Milano: Mimesis.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sakamoto, N., Martin, R.R., Kumano, H., Tomifusa, K. and Al-Adawi, S. (2005) Hikikomori, is it a Culture-reactive or culture-bound syndrome? Nidotherapy and a clinical Vignette from Oman. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine 35 (2): 191–198.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Suwa, M., Suzuki, K., Hara, K., Watanabe, H. and Takahashi, T. (2003) Family features in primary social withdrawal among young adults. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 57 (6): 586–594.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tajan, N. (2015a) Adolescents’ school non-attendance and the spread of psychological counselling in Japan. Asia Pacific Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy doi:10.1080/21507686.2015.1029502.

  • Tajan, N. (2015b) Social withdrawal and psychiatry: A comprehensive review of Hikikomori. Neuropsychiatrie de l’Enfance et de l’Adolescence, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neurenf.2015.03.008.

  • Tanaka, N. (2010) Director-actor Hideto Iwai proves that anything is possible When you come out of hiding. The Japan Times [online], http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2010/04/16/stage/director-actor-hideto-iwai-proves-that-anything-is-possible-when-you-come-out-of-hiding/#.UnRnGyQfYmU.

  • Tanaka, N. (2011) ‘Amon Miyamoto: Globe-trotting Dramatist seeks new horizons’. The Japan Times [online], http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2011/06/05/people/globe-trotting-dramatist-seeks-new-horizons/#.UnRnWiQfYmU.

  • Teo, A.R. (2010) A new form of social withdrawal in Japan: A review of Hikikomori. International Journal of Social Psychiatry 56 (2): 178–185.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Teo, A.R. (2012) Social isolation associated with depression: A case report of Hikikomori. International Journal of Social Psychiatry: 1–3.

  • Teo, A.R. and Gaw, A.R. (2010) Hikikomori, a Japanese culture-bound syndrome of social withdrawal? A proposal for DSM-5. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 198 (6): 444–449.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Toivonen, T. (2015) What is the social innovation community? Conceptualizing an emergent collaborative organization. Journal of Social Entrepreneurship doi:10.1080/19420676.2014.997779.

  • Tsuiki, K. (2006) La psychanalyse au Japon. Psychanalyse 7: 69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tsuiki, K. (2013) Roshutsu seyo, to gendai bunmei wa iu: ⌈ kokoro no yami ⌋ no sōshitsu to seishin bunseki. Tōkyō, Japan: Kawade shobō shinsha.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ueyama, K. (2001) Hikikomori’ datta boku kara. Tōkyō, Japan: Kōdansha.

    Google Scholar 

  • Watts, J. (2002) Public health experts concerned about ‘hikikomori’. The Lancet: 359.

  • Wong, V. (2009) Youth locked in time and space? Defining features of social withdrawal and practice implications. Journal of Social Work Practice 23 (3): 337–352.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yamada, M. (1999) Parazaito shinguru no jidai. Tōkyō, Japan: Chikuma Shinsho.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yoneyama, S. (2000) Student discourse on Tōkō Kyohi (School Phobia/Refusal) in Japan, burnout or empowerment? British Journal of Sociology of Education 21 (1): 77–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zielenziger, M. (2007) Shutting out the Sun. How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation. New York: Vintage Books.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The author thank the Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University, for welcoming him during a first stay between 14 April 2011 and 14 June 2012, a second stay between 5 October 2012 and 1 December 2013, and a third stay from 4 April 2014 to 31 March 2015. This work was supported by the Japan Foundation [2010]; the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Post-Doctoral Fellowship [short-term] for North American and European Researchers, through a Nominative Authority [CNRS], 2012); and Canon Foundation in Europe Fellowship [2014].

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tajan, N. Japanese post-modern social renouncers: An exploratory study of the narratives of Hikikomori subjects. Subjectivity 8, 283–304 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/sub.2015.11

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/sub.2015.11

Keywords

  • Hikikomori
  • Lacan
  • Japan
  • narratives
  • social withdrawal
  • subjectivity