Japan: The Mystery of the Missing Million

Japan: The Mystery of the Missing Million

47 minutes 2002 8.56/10 based on 18 votes

A tragedy is sweeping over Japan at a steady pace.  Hundreds of thousands of young men are turning their backs entirely on society and real life. They are choosing instead to lock themselves away, usually in their bedrooms, for years. They literally enter their rooms and refuse to leave. The phenomenon is called hikikomori in Japanese and it literally means ‘to withdraw from society’.  It’s a highly sensitive subject and the parents of the recluse are usually filled with a deep sense of shame and guilt. The topic is rarely discussed openly and this means that there’s very little information available.

Most of the sufferers of this condition live in the suburbs that surround Japan’s major cities. Recent surveys show that the majority are male and usually the first-born child.

One young man took over the family kitchen and prohibited everybody else from entering.  His mother only hears his voice when she takes food to him. He is somewhere behind a huge mound of garbage and she can’t see him. The young man refuses to allow anybody to throw away anything he has touched. The family ended up building a new kitchen because they lost hope of him ever coming out. After all, he’s been in there playing video games for over two years.

Another young man has not left his room in four years. His mother says she knows he’s still alive because occasionally she hears the floorboards creaking. Nobody knows for sure how or what he eats.

A third young man who had isolated himself for about two years, allowed the cameras into his room. Everything was oddly neat and well organized. He claimed to spend most of the day playing video games, reading comics, and listening to music.

And just like those, there are many stories of young men who give up on society. Some seem to be unable to handle academic or job pressure, others simply got fed up of people and still others do it out of fear of not being good enough and anxiety about their future.

After a few years, some hikikomori victims recover enough to re-enter society.  Another young man who spent three years as a recluse is now a counselor working with a support group for parents. In Japan it takes parents up to four years of not seeing their child before they seek outside help.

Is this condition exclusive to Japanese culture? If so, what is it about the country that makes young men prefer to hide out in an often dark and filthy small space? One thing is sure, Japanese society is harsh on those who are different and so the life of anybody who doesn’t fit into the mold can be very difficult. Also, Japanese teens are growing up under an overwhelming amount of technology, which seems to have replaced the inherent human experience, making teens handicapped when it comes to communicating honestly and openly with other people. Watch this now.

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4 responses to “Japan: The Mystery of the Missing Million”

  1. denis preedy says:

    This is not something peculiar to Japanese people. It seems to be an extreme instance of Agoraphobia, something that occurs in most societies.Unfortunately, the young Japanese seem to be under extreme pressure and so they enter a different reality. Their reality is Television,computers, and video games. That is the modern world.Too much pressure is put on their brains, which can’t cope and so they remove themselves.

  2. Ruth Slater says:

    I havent even watched this but Im going to but without even seeing it I can tell you that it is the parents faults in many ways because the patents allowed this lazy way of parenting to take hold on their child . They buy them cell phones and games at a very early age to occupy their kids instead of taking control of their environment and do some parenting . Far too much emphasis is put on achieving high grades then is necessary to have a successful life , Not everyone is college material not does everyone want to be .

  3. Vitor Almas says:


  4. Chris K says:

    Life 101. At some stage of development people have to go out and work (in whatever capacity) for the means to survive.
    By removing this requirement, parents invite their kids to decide they’d prefer not to. I cheerfully enjoy great periods of not having to deal with society but the need to earn money, buy food and even do my washing forces me to interact with the outside world. I don’t agree that this is a uniquely Japanese problem.
    Parents, require your kids to grow up and learn to support themselves. The rampant enabling of your child’s condition isn’t helping them, you or society. At least buy them an iron and start bringing in peoples clothes for your over privileged kids to iron to make them pay their way. Then they can be as isolated as they want to be, no loss.

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