What is Hikikomori?

There are plenty of misconceptions about the concept of ikigai; one is the belief that all Japanese have ikigai. Unfortunately, many Japanese lack ikigai; one reason for this is a condition called hikikomori (social isolation).

Nick explains this condition and how it affects people's ikigai.

A lack of ikigai

There are many romantic notions about ikigai. For example: it’s a secret to a long and happy life, or it’s a word that means you never retire, or it’s the sweet spot of doing something that you love, that you’re good at, that the world needs, and that you can be paid for.

These are all western misunderstandings or perhaps western misinterpretations of the ikigai concept. Another belief is that all Japanese have an ikigai. Unfortunately this is not the case, there are many millions of Japanese who do not live with a sense of ikigai.

One extreme example of Japanese people who don’t have ikigai in their lives are people who suffer from the social isolation called hikikomori

There are many papers on this subject, and one I’ve been reading recently is “Facing and Treating Hikikomori (pathological social withdrawal) by Takahiro A. Kato. In it he writes that:

“Hikikomori is a form of pathological social withdrawal or social isolation whose essential feature is physical isolation in one’s home.” 

So what this really means is you have many young to middle aged men living their entire life in their bedroom. They do not go outside, they do not work, they don’t go to school, they have no friends, and they’re not communicating with anyone.

They’re not engaging in any way with society. If they do, the only way they do that is through the internet. The problem is very widespread; the government estimates that there are 1.5 million people in Japan living as hikikomori

So the word hikikomori means both the condition and also it describes the person who has the condition. So 1.5 million people in Japan have hikikomori, but that’s a very conservative estimate.

Experts on this condition believe that the hikikomori population can reach 10 million. And what’s concerning is that Covid may have increased the numbers quite significantly. 

So it would be very hard for someone who’s isolating themselves from society to feel ikigai because we know that ikigai involves our relationships. For ikigai, you need intimacy, you need to feel needed, and you also want to feel that you’re contributing to the lives of others. 

So there you have it. Unfortunately, not all Japanese live with a sense of ikigai. For many of them, they’re living their life isolated and feel that the last thing they want to do is to engage in society.