Behind Closed Doors: Decoding Japan’s Hikikomori Epidemic

3 min readOct 1, 2023

In the vibrant cities of Japan, where economic and technological wonders co-exist with its time-honored ancient tradition and culture, there appears to be a hidden epidemic that has quietly affected the lives of many. This problem is concealed and often unnoticed by the casual observer. What is the hidden epidemic that has impacted individuals, families, and society in Japan? It is known as hikikimori.

Do you know why this hidden epidemic is known as hikikomori?

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare defines hikikomori as a condition where affected individuals refuse to leave their parent's house, do not work or go to school, and isolate themselves from society and family in a single room for months. According to psychiatrist Tamaki Sito, it is a state that becomes a huge problem by the late twenties, cooping oneself at home for months or years. The affected individuals become unhappy, insecure, and shy, talking less, and losing friends.

How do they survive?

It is worth noting that hikikomori, who are predominantly from middle-class families, may rely on their parents for sustenance and accommodation. This can present challenges for the parents and pose risks for the hikikomori, particularly given that the first identified cohort of hikikomori will reach age 65 by 2030 and their parents may have passed away. Nevertheless, some hikikomori manage to sustain themselves by engaging in remote work and online shopping, which enables them to remain confined in their dwellings for extended durations.

What are the causes?

The complex Japanese social life, emphasizes the importance of propriety and correct behavior. However, this emphasis can create a stifling environment where social embarrassment becomes a profound concern and can even lead to trauma. For some individuals, this pressure to conform can trigger a journey into social withdrawal and result in hikikomori, a phenomenon where affected individuals isolate themselves for months or even years. There is also a cultural aspect tied to the perception of mental health in Japan, with a persistent culture of shame surrounding mental health issues. Hikikomori reflects the complexities of societal expectations and their toll on individual well-being, serving as a term that veils mental health struggles.

The Japanese education system is structured and focused on academic achievement, leading to a highly competitive environment for students. This can result in feelings of inadequacy and anxiety for those who struggle to keep up with their peers. Additionally, the strict Japanese society can make it challenging for students to express themselves or ask for help when they are struggling. These factors can contribute to the development of hikikomori, as individuals feel unable to cope with the expectations placed upon them. Educators and society as a whole must recognize the impact of these pressures and work towards creating a more supportive and understanding environment for those who may be struggling with mental health issues.

The cost of education in Japan can create additional pressure on students and their families. The expenses associated with private tutoring and entrance exams can exacerbate the stress of academic achievement. As a result, students may prioritize academic success as a means to secure a successful career, rather than pursuing personal interests or passions. It is crucial to address the financial burden of education in Japan and support students who may not have the same financial resources as their peers.


The prevalence of hikikomori tendencies in Japan is not solely a personal issue but rather a reflection of broader societal and cultural dynamics. The term sheds light on societal expectations' effects on mental health, revealing systemic problems. To address hikikomori, Japan must adopt a nuanced approach that breaks the cycle of isolation and reshapes societal attitudes toward mental health. By destigmatizing mental health issues and providing support systems, Japan can create a society where individuals can navigate life with resilience and well-being.




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