February 10, 2006

Go to your room!

I missed a great article from the January 15th NY Times Magazine (I'm often a few weeks behind because they sit on the back of my toilet and digesting them is dependent on the call of nature) but this morning I found a fascinating article on the phenonemon of Hikikomori, whereby young Japanese (80% males), take to their rooms for inexplicable reasons and refuse to leave, often for years, and aside from brief trips out for an hour at a time to buy snacks or CDs will spend their entire teen years and/or early twenties lying around in bed listeing to Radiohead:

Next to us was Shuichi, who, like Takeshi, asked that I use only his first name to protect his privacy. He was 20, wore low-slung jeans on his lanky body and a 1970's Rod Stewart shag and had dreams of being a guitarist. Three years ago, he dropped out of high school and became a recluse for a miserable year before a counselor persuaded him to join New Start. Behind him a young man sat on the couch wearing small wire-frame glasses and a shy smile. He ducked his head as he spoke, and his voice was so quiet that I had to lean in to hear him. After years of being bullied at school and having no friends, Y.S., who asked to be identified by his initials, retreated to his room at age 14, and proceeded to watch TV, surf the Internet and build model cars - for 13 years. When he finally left his room one April afternoon last year, he had spent half of his life as a shut-in. Like Takeshi and Shuichi, Y.S. suffered from a problem known in Japan as hikikomori, which translates as "withdrawal" and refers to a person sequestered in his room for six months or longer with no social life beyond his home. (The word is a noun that describes both the problem and the person suffering from it and is also an adjective, like "alcoholic.") Some hikikomori do occasionally emerge from their rooms for meals with their parents, late-night runs to convenience stores or, in Takeshi's case, once-a-month trips to buy CD's. And though female hikikomori exist and may be undercounted, experts estimate that about 80 percent of the hikikomori are male, some as young as 13 or 14 and some who live in their rooms for 15 years or more.
While there's a smattering of hikikomori cases in Taiwan and South Korea, the condition is rather specific--affecting mostly young Japanese males, making it a disorder like anorexia, dependent on a specific cultural moment.

Its like the disaffection of Morrissey writ large (a fawning bio I just read on The Smiths front man by Mark Simpson made much of the fact that Morrissey spent his late teens/early twenties shivering in a Manchester bed listening to music and reading). It reminds me of Elaine Showalter's book Hystories, which looked at modern forms of hysteria (alien abductions, remembered memories of satanic ritual abuse, Gulf War syndrome), and theorized hysterias as a form of body language, a system of signs that allow bodies to speak to each other through infection of the language across time and culture.

The NY Times Magazine article includes an extensive interview with Tamaki Saito, a controversial Japanese psychoanalyst whose been writing on Japanese youth culture and otaku sexuality for a number of years--his books have caused an uproar at times. I'm currently trying to sign up a translation here. If anyone's writing on this you get an automatic contract from me.

brokeback mountain oil painting | another brokeback mountain painting | "these civil rights leaders are nothing more than racists" | south park's bloody mary | helmet cam video from skyway bike race! | uptown: where i go to gets down

Posted by jason at February 10, 2006 02:23 PM
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