Hikikomori (meaning “withdrawal”), a condition supposedly unique to Japan, has been in the news in the past (e.g., on the Beeb and NYT), but I just picked up on it again recently. The Japanese government defines it as follows (see Kaneko, 2006):

  1. He/she continues not to take part in society and is withdrawn at home for six months and over;
  2. It is distinguished from a mental disease, such as schizophrenia.

Kaneko lists features of Japanese society which it’s argued are the causal factors, e.g., extended “youthhood” due to increasing years spent in education, technological advances related to “individualization”, emphasis on dependency and collectivism in Japanese social relationships, pressure of the requirement to be punctual and efficient, not wasting time.

Tamaki Saitō, a psychiatrist who seems to have become famous because of work on the condition, defines it as follows (see Krysinska, 2006):

hikikomori is a condition of seclusion where there is no social participation and it lasts at least six months (social participation is defined as attending school, going to work or sustaining close relationships with people from outside of the person’s family). There is rather no possibility that a mental disease is the major reason of the problem”.

Here’s a bit from a hikikomori:

“[…] I spent almost 24 hours in bed, and only went out of bed when I had meals. I did not even take a bath. When I was in the worst condition, I went into the kitchen after my mother went to bed, and had the meal by myself. I lost touch with most friends, though there were a few friends who regularly tried to reach me. The more I failed to respond to them, the more I lost touch with the outside world. But I needed to continue this lifestyle for a while to recharge myself with the energy I had lost through almost 30 years of life.”

Seems related to psychiatric conditions, so odd that the Japanese government and Saitō (maybe their advisor) disagree! Perhaps the problem is that psychiatric problems are often seen as being a problem of the body/mind (akin to broken legs, cancer, viral infections, etc) and not as relating to ability to function in a given environment.

So, dear reader, if you have any good references on this, do please send me an email. I’d love to see a study comparing folk with an autism spectrum condition, psychosis, eating disorder, and hikikomori on a range of psychological tasks that pickup differences and similarities between the first three.


Kaneko, Sachiko (2006). Japan’s “Socially Withdrawn Youths” and Time Constraints in Japanese Society. Time & Society, 15, 233-249

Krysinska, Dorota (2006). Hikikomori (Social Withdrawal) in Japan: Discourses of Media and Scholars; Multicausal Explanations of the Phenomenon. Master of Arts dissertation, University of Pittsburgh.