November 30, 2016

The real question here isn't why half a million young Japanese stay inside all the time and have no social contacts.

As Bloomberg forefronts in "Why Half a Million Young Japanese Can't Face School or Work" — before admitting in the 4th paragraph that the issue — the "hikikomori" — is not new.

The current issue is that the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, sees this matter of life-style choice and psychological orientation as problem in need of government intervention because the population is dropping. That is, the nation needs these solitude-loving people to have babies. But, it seems (it's hard to read through the dross in this article) the government is funding this stay-at-home behavior with welfare.

The article puzzles over why young people are doing this. Were they bullied at school? Pressured by parents? But what's so hard to understand? People respond to government incentives. If you had told me when I was 20 that I could stay home, not work, and receive monthly payments to cover basic expenses, I'd have snapped up that deal with pleasure. I can stay out of the workplace and use my time however I want, free from economic need? Sign me up!

Now, maybe you'll tell me I don't understand hikikomori and that these are people who feel strongly reluctant to get out into the world of work. But if you'd given me that offer and I'd gotten set in my ways of collecting a monthly check while I stayed home in my safe, comfortable apartment and read books, drew pictures, and listened to music, and then you threatened to take it away unless I manifested anxiety about going to work and supporting myself, I'd have the requisite anxiety.

35 comments:

Brando said...

Staying home is one thing, but that doesn't seem to stop people on welfare here in the US from having babies. Maybe the problem is that in Japan even people on welfare are too responsible to have babies when they're not working. Which in a way is not a "problem"--the last thing we need is population growth heavily weighted towards welfare babies.

AllenS said...

Porn.

Bob Boyd said...

Uh oh, looks like there may be five types of introverts.

Ann Althouse said...

@Brando

Maybe the Japanese government should just offer higher payments -- much higher payments -- to the females who make babies for the country.

If there really is a serious enough population problem, that is what government would do (unless they want to use immigration to get more people).

BudBrown said...

Does Japan have online voting, yet?

Paco Wové said...

I was under the impression (fostered by vague memories of Zielenziger's Shutting out the Sun) that hikikomori were primarily a male phenomenon. I wonder what the sex ratio is nowadays.

Brando said...

"Maybe the Japanese government should just offer higher payments -- much higher payments -- to the females who make babies for the country."

Wouldn't that just mean a larger proportion of children born to families dependent on the dole? Unless those babies mostly break out of the cycle of dependence, I don't see how that fixes the real problem of underpopulation (which is fewer people of the next generation to sustain the economy). Are we better off with a larger next-generation if that generation is made up more of welfare-dependents? How is that more sustainable?

Karen of Texas said...

Automation and robots - it's a race to see if the slack from population decline can be taken up by I, Robot.

Bob Boyd said...

"Maybe the Japanese government should just offer higher payments -- much higher payments -- to the females who make babies for the country."

Such subsidies might turn into a kind of eugenics program. At some point wouldn't the government want a say in who these baby makers are making babies with? You don't want them cranking out hikikomori, for example.

JAORE said...

It's Eloi all the way down.

Where are the morlock when you need them?

Sally327 said...

I wonder just how good these people would be at parenting. Maybe those who have difficulty interacting with society (or as my dear and now departed Mother would say, are too lazy to get their asses out of bed and do something worthwhile with their lives) aren't the people who should be encouraged to reproduce.

sane_voter said...

From Kamikaze pilots to hikikomori in 75 years

Mitch H. said...

hikikomori are not just layabout welfare cheats. They're pretty much defined by extreme social anxiety and oftentimes agoraphobia. It's basically a mental disease. They get elided with NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training), but they're not synonymous. I'm not exactly sure what percentage of the half-million are true hikikomori and what percentage are garden-variety NEETs, who *are* the sort of layabouts you're talking about.

And I was under the impression that most hikikomori were dependent upon their parents, not welfare.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Paco Wové said...

I wonder what the sex ratio is nowadays.

Zero. Hence the lack of children.

Paddy O said...

acedia

Laslo Spatula said...

Socially Awkward Guy Who Makes No Eye Contact says:

It is easy to stay by yourself a lot when no one likes you very much. In High School I was friends with a Japanese exchange student for awhile, but then his English got better and he could talk with other people; soon, he stopped talking to me at all…

He had a big thing for Bukkake Porn. It wasn’t really my taste — I don’t like things that get too sticky — but I really liked the Japanese schoolgirls in knee-high socks. I once thought that if I went to Japan maybe people there wouldn’t think I was such a loser, but I don’t like seafood and my Great Uncle fought in the Pacific during World War Two…

Sometimes I just stay home for days at a time and make drawings; I don’t show them to anybody, because they already think I’m weird enough without showing them pictures I’ve drawn of Nazi Dinosaurs and Half-Naked Girls in the Pee Dungeon…

I think girls, when they first meet me, get the vibe that I want to pee on them. I don’t know how they know this, but I’m pretty sure they do. Maybe Japanese Girls would be different — maybe some would even like that — but there is no way I could learn their language: I had enough trouble trying to learn German, and they even use our same alphabet...

So I draw Nazi Dinosaurs and Half-Naked Girls in the Pee Dungeon and hide the pictures under my bed, with my masturbation sock. It’s lonely being alone, but it’s better than being out with people that think you’re a creep…

Like no one else thinks these things.

I hope the Girl with the Blue Hair is working at McDonalds today.

I am Laslo.

rehajm said...

But what's so hard to understand? People respond to government incentives.

First, brilliant! Where can I mail your Econ diploma?

Second, for some reason this is incredibly hard for people to understand. We know people don't always act rationally. Perhaps it has something to do with the innate human desire for a bargain and/or free stuff even when it isn't actually free. Or that most of us are terrible at assessing and rationalizing risk.

Jane the Actuary said...

"Shutting Out the Sun," the book I read on the topic (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/janetheactuary/2015/02/from-the-library-shutting-out-the-sun-how-japan-created-its-own-lost-generation-by-michael-zielenziger.html) dates from 2006, so, yes, this isn't new. The author attributes the phenomenon to the Japanese culture of conformity -- for these men, hiding at home is better than being shamed by being out & about and having the neighbors know the family has an unemployed son. Plus, the crash of the 90s ended the ability to easily find a job, and lifetime employment, and the end of arranged marriage not all that long ago meant these men are no longer automatically shuffled into marriage.

The author also broadens the story into Japanese culture more generally, and how very different it is from anything we are used to in the U.S.

So, no, this isn't the same as American unemployed young adults playing video games in the basement. And, yes, the Japanese government is trying to boost incentives for women to have children, but there really isn't any such thing as unwed motherhood there, and Japanese women increasingly simply don't want to marry "traditional" Japanese men.

Robert Cook said...

They're all "Anxious Introverts."

mockturtle said...

The internet. It is a world unto itself. We'd probably all be better off without it.

William said...

I think work and social interactions are both highly overrated.

Wilbur said...

" I really liked the Japanese schoolgirls in knee-high socks"

You would love Ai Miyazato.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

mockturtle:

The virtual world is merely a new test of fitness. Self-moderation and personal responsibility are traditional character traits necessary to pass.

Gahrie said...

Maybe the Japanese government should just offer higher payments -- much higher payments -- to the females who make babies for the country.

How about drafting the women and forcing them to have babies to protect the nation's future?

mikee said...

I recall Nancy Pelosi saying that being supported financially would allow everyone to express their creative, individual beauty. Or some such rot. What happens to those living on the dole is this, exactly, a complete waste of human life.

mccullough said...

Their best men were killed in the war

William Chadwick said...

"I think work and social interactions are both highly overrated." Generally true, at least for me. Regular job-work interferes with my life's work, which is writing. And most people I've encountered in regular jobs bore the hell out of me. On the other hand, poverty limits my self-expression, too.

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StephenFearby said...


About a decade ago, the NYT Magazine published a lengthy, quite insightful piece about the hikikomori, a very good example of what the NYT can do when can do when its not channeling USSR-era Pravda.

Shutting Themselves In
By MAGGIE JONES JAN. 15, 2006
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/15/magazine/shutting-themselves-in.html

"...It is part of being a "rental sister," as the outreach counselors are known at New Start. Rental sisters are often a hikikomori's first point of contact and his route back to the outside world. (There are a few rental brothers, too, but "women are softer, and hikikomori respond better to them," one counselor told me.)

The relationship usually begins after a parent telephones New Start and arranges for consultations and routine visits from a rental sister, which costs about $8,000 a year. The rental sister then writes a letter to the hikikomori, introducing herself and the program. "I never read it; I threw it away," said Y.S., the 28-year-old with the shy smile I'd met at New Start's potluck. When Kawakami arrived at his house in Chiba, near Tokyo, for the first time, Y.S. opened his bedroom door long enough to tell her, "Please, go home."

IMO, the condition easily qualifies for a diagnosis of various mixes of DSM codes, which typically describe behavior rather than the underlying cause(s). Treatment involves either or both talk therapy and prescription medication, again typically without consideration or measurement of pertinent underlying physiological variables.

OK, how about a success story based on changes in physiology. These guys spend a lot of time alone in their room without a hamster wheel to run on. Lets do something about that:

Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health
Volume 12, 2016

Jogging Therapy for Hikikomori Social Withdrawal and Increased Cerebral Hemodynamics: A Case Report

"...Using near infrared spectroscopy to evaluate hemodynamic alteration, bilateral temporal hemodynamics considerably increased after the three-month jogging therapy. Regarding exercise therapy for mental illness, numerous studies have reported the effectiveness of exercise therapy for major depression. This case implied, however, that the applicability of exercise therapy is not limited to major depressive disorder."

"...In spite of the exact mechanisms how exercise affects the brain, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) and the gene VGF (nerve growth factor inducible), are not fully understood, properly designed studies elucidated that exercise training can be as effective as antidepressive medications [9]."

http://benthamopen.com/FULLTEXT/CPEMH-12-38

In this case, exercise was added to ineffective by itself anti-depressive medication therapy. However, since many anti-depressants also act as anti-oxidants, the variable of oxidative stress / inflammation -- which can muck up brain circulation -- is widely ignored.

Measuring the pertinent physiological variables of, say, psychos trying to push people off subway platforms is also ignored in favor of playing the game of catch and release. (Of course, only With a supply of sedating drugs which the psychos decline to keep taking.)


mockturtle said...

The parents need to boot them out at least by age 21. [I say this having two grandsons over 21 who are still living at home]. Whatever happened to joining the French Foreign Legion or going to sea on a merchant vessel?

Blair said...

Aw duuude... America just needs to help Japan get LAID, maaan...

It's what a braw would do...

Bad Lieutenant said...

Well I could help the ladies...

Joe said...

Extroverts wring hands over why introverts won't talk to them.

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