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Hideto Kawai had been bullied at school, and when he failed his classes at age 15, his belief in both himself and the world crumbled.

A year later, he shut himself away in his bedroom, refusing to come out — for four whole years.

“I just stayed in my room playing video games, watching films and sports programs,” said Kawai, now a successful playwright.


His case is far from unique: according to a Japanese cabinet survey, there are currently 541,000 young Japanese aged between 15 and 39 who lead similarly reclusive lives (since it did not take in adults over 39, the true number is probably much high).

These individuals are known as hikikomori. It is officially defined as someone who haven’t left their homes or interacted with others for at least six months.

More broadly, hikikomori could describe those who shut themselves away completely in their rooms, and others who leave them once in a while.


Though the phenomenon emerged in the 1980s, there is still much debate on how exactly this condition is triggered and how it can be defined.

“We do think that there is a psychological aspect to this condition, that it stems from depression and anxiety. But there are also cultural and societal influences at play,” said Takahashi Okayama, a neuropsychiatry professor at Kyushu University.

When people who have had limited social interactions are thrust into high-pressured school or work environments, the change can be too drastic for some to cope with.

“When people don’t succeed, they feel devastated and demoralized, and that triggers the desire to escape from their tormentors and shut themselves away,” said Okayama

He added that the numbers of male hikikomori is higher than women, owing to the higher expectations that Japanese society place on men.

Support Center

Back when he was a teenager, Kawai didn’t have access to a support group. Instead, he gradually started contacting some of his old friends, venturing out of his home in the evenings to play soccer.

“I’d join them at night as there would be fewer people about,” said Kawai.

Dr. Okayama is currently working with an established hikikomori support center that provides therapy to people with this condition, helping them reintegrate back into society.

He emphasized how important it was for parents to be more understanding towards children who had decided to lock themselves away, and said that group therapy sessions helped ease people back into society.

Support Center


For those who can’t yet face stepping out of their homes, virtual high schools offer an alternative.

Okayama said that virtual schools allowed people not to lose touch with society. However, for hikikomori to reintegrate fully back into society they needed to start having face-to-face interactions with others.

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1. Hideto Kawai was a normal, ordinary boy. True or false? Why might he have shut himself in his own room? What did he do there?

2. What does hikikomori mean? Are they extremely rare?

3. Is this a recent phenomenon? When did it first appear?

4. According to the university professor, the hikikomori lock themselves up because they are happy playing video games. Is this entirely right, partially right, or entirely wrong?

5. Are there an equal number of male and female hikikomoris?

6. Should parents be strict and impose discipline on their children if they become hikikomori?

7. Are there programs for hikikomoris? What is the aim or purpose of these support groups?


A. Do you know anyone who is a hikikomori or a semi-hikikomori?

B. People are happy being a hikikomori. Some people truly enjoy being a hikikomori. What do you think?

C. Is there much pressure at school, the workplace and society in general?

D. What might happen in the future?

E. How can hikikomoris be helped or cured?

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