Hikikomori and Japan

Yuichi Hattori, MA

Sayama Psychological Institute


Japanese society is a paradox that puzzles outside scholars and observers. The nation is the third largest economic power with some of the lowest crime rates and highest literacy in the world. On the other hand, the country is known for its high suicide rate, school bullying, and in recent years, significant population decline.

In the economic crisis of the 1990s, a new social problem emerged in Japan. That phenomenon is known as “hikikomori.”

The term “hikikomori” refers to the people who withdraw from social life and do not leave home, causing some observers to label them modern-day hermits. But the syndrome permanently prevents an individual from connecting with people as a fellow human being. (The term refers to the behavior itself and to those who suffer from it)

By the beginning of 2000, the syndrome had been spreading at almost epidemic proportions. Psychiatrist Tamaki Saito, who coined the term, estimated there may be over one million hikikomoris, about 1% of the total population of Japan. In 2010 the government stated officially over 1.5 million people suffering the syndrome one way or another.

Without effective treatments, the number is still climbing.


I met my first hikikomori client in 2001, and we’ve since treated over 100 hikikomori clients. From my experiences I have found the syndrome consists of two types: withdrawal and covert hikikomori.

Only the difference is that withdrawal hikikomori is accompanied by social withdrawal. Withdrawal hikikomori completely withdraw from society whereas covert hikikomori conceal their condition by portraying more-or-less ‘normal’ social behaviors.

Hikikomori is the result of an absence of maternal bonding. When the mother rejects her young child emotionally, the child responds to her by splitting into two selves. One self is to conform to the mother to avoid further abandonment, and the other to hide his true identity for emotional survival.

Hikikomori is the consequence of an absence of secure attachment. The syndrome is characterized by craving for mother’s love, torment by the ghost of mother, and chronic fear and distrust of people.

It is my hope that you benefit from learning about hikikomori, enabling you to better understand how the absence of a mother love enslaves an individual to the life of detachment from human community.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;

ensure justice for those being crushed.

Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,

and see that they get justice.

(Proverbs 31:8-9)