Towards an understanding of being a 'mature' male in Japan: an anthropological perspective into the 'problem' of hikikomori (youth social withdrawal)
(Temple University Japan Campus)
Paper short abstract:
This paper is aimed at critically examining 'internal cultural debates' about maturity and personhood, particularly of adult males, in contemporary Japan through an ethnographic study of medical and other approaches to hikikomori, or the emergent social problem of youth shut-ins in Japan.
Paper long abstract:
In Japan, the 'problem' of 'immature' youth -particularly male youth- who isolate themselves from society and do not work or socialize with others emerged as a social issue in the late 1990s. Labelled hikikomori (referring to either the person or the condition), this has been understood to be a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, though recently global attention to the issue has risen within popular and medical discourse. The definition of hikikomori remains ambiguous, despite attempts to develop specific treatment or support programs including biomedical interventions, psychological counseling, and lay support systems. This paper draws on long-term ethnographic fieldwork at hikikomori support organizations, as well as interviews with psychiatrists, hikikomori tôjisha (those who call themselves hikikomori), families of hikikomori youth, and those who provide support to examine the following questions: How have recent social changes in Japan, including conceptions of gender, as well as the availability of the hikikomori category affected the experiences and identities of hikikomori youths and families of hikikomori? How do hikikomori tôjisha, families, psychiatrists and supporters make sense of the hikikomori category and the ways in which hikikomori should be dealt with? What are the factors that influence the choice of treatment/support by these actors? By making sense of how the category of hikikomori is understood by various actors and realised in practice, this paper highlights the 'internal cultural debates' about maturity and personhood, particularly of adult males, in contemporary Japanese society and its cross-cultural implications.
Learning, Education and Knowledge Transmission in Cultural and Intercultural contexts