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A “hikikomori” (ひきこもり), derived from “hikikomoru” (引き籠もる(ひきこもる), lit. “to stay indoors”), is the Japanese term for a socially isolated person who generally hasn't left their house in 6+ months, does not attend work or school, and has limited social capital outside of their family.

History and definition

In the past, the term meant “seclusion” or “withdrawal”, often when you'd get sick. One of the earliest use of the term comes from the 1962 book An Introduction to Sung Poetry by Kōjirō Yoshikawa to describe “Sū Shùnqīn” (苏舜钦), a Song dynasty poet who was impeached,1) fled to his newly-built Cānglàng Pavilion in Sūzhōu,2) and secluded himself until death in 1048.

Of course, the term slowly changed during the Heisei era. By 2019, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare formally defined “hikikomori” as this non-psychotic phenomenon where a socially reclusive person hasn't left home in six months, distinct from schizophrenia but may be misdiagnosed as such.3) It was also implied that “hikikomori” and “NEET” (“Not in Education, Employment, or Training”) were the same thing.

Many people have argued that “hikikomori” and “NEET” are two separate concepts, saying the difference is that a “NEET” can leave their house but a “hikikomori” generally does not. In addition, there are terms for young, unmarried people like herbivore men and parasite single, then you have freeter which is the label often used for underemployed young adults.


Hikikomori in Japan

Hikikomori definitions People aged 15-39
Narrow • Almost never leaves their room.
• Leaves room, but not the home.
• Normally home, but often visits local stores, etc.
176,000 541,000
Broad • Normally home, but only leaves for hobby-related activities.

According to the Cabinet Office's survey, their initial survey conducted in 2015 discovered that 541,000 people between the ages of 15 to 39 could be considered “hikikomori”, shown in the chart.

However, when the survey was expanded to cover middle-aged and older adults in 2018, they were stunned to see 613,000 people between the ages of 40 to 64 be considered “hikikomori” too.

This reveals that the “hikikomori” phenomenon is not just a generational issue exhibited by young people,4) but a much larger social issue that has to address the older “hikikomori” as well.5)6)

Recently, the term “80-50 Problem” (8050問題, Hachimaru Gōmaru Mondai) has emerged to address the social issue of people in their 50s, who lived through the Employment Ice Age, are still living with their parents who are now in their 80s.7)8) Furthermore, this problem has now led to cases of filicide,9) matricide,10) corpse negligence,11) etc. But for now, more research needs to be done.

Hikikomori worldwide

Surprisingly, the “hikikomori” phenomenon is not exclusive to Japan, but the social issue is often ignored in the West and East, thus the lack of statistics. In nearby countries, they use “yǐnbì qīngnián” (隐蔽青年, lit. “hidden youth”) or “jiālǐdūn” (家裡蹲)12) in China, while “hikikomori” (히키코모리) appears to be in the process of being phased out for “ŭndunhyŏng oet'ori” (은둔형 외톨이, lit. “reclusive loner”) in South Korea.

For the English language, the rough equivalent is hermit, loner, or recluse (shut-in), but you could also use NEET as an alternative term. There's also the Boomerang Generation, except the problem with this is that it implies that the person lived on their own at some point, then you have unsympathetic terms that are arguably closer to parasite single instead.


  • Of course, “hikikomori” can be abbreviated as “hiki” (ヒキ) or “hikki” (ヒッキー).
  • This article turned out to be more serious than I expected. What the hell?

See also

  (-_-) …
Under Emperor Rénzōng of Sòng, Sū Shùnqīn was selected to serve as the county magistrate for Méngshān County in Wúzhōu, but Shùnqīn had sympathized with Fàn Zhòngyān's Qingli Reforms which lasted three years as the Emperor never fully supported these reforms, so he was ousted.
For reference, the Cānglàng Pavilion is roughly 1,268km (≈787.9mi) northeast of Méngshān County. Today, it would be a 1683km (≈1045mi) drive that takes a little over 18 hours.
"平成 30 年版 厚生労働白書" (July 9, 2019). Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.
“Jiālǐ” (家裡) means “home” or “house”, while “dūn” (蹲) means “squat” or “stay”. The problem with doing a literal translation is that homestay and squatting are already words.
hikikomori.txt · Last modified: 2023-12-17 12:59:49 by