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The Work of Hikikomori


Defined as a period of social isolation in the absence of any other clear mental health issues for a period of six months of longer and loosely translated as "social withdrawal," hikikomori emerged as a condition among Japanese youth in the late 1980's, immediately capturing the attention of the Japanese and international public. Current numbers stand at an estimated population of 700,000, with different stakeholders, such as parents and politicians attributing it to individual psychopathology, poor parenting, and/or a lack of social support structure. Adding to the confusion, though the definition of hikikomori argues to be in the "absence of clear mental health explanations," hikikomori often cope with psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. This is a nuance generally unavailable to the public, who often confuse the mental health implicated hikikomori with labor refusing NEET (not educating, employed, or in training). Treatment thus often takes the form of ameliorating the patients' own tensions and anxieties and coaxing them back to work. Within this space, hikikomori navigate the uncertainty surrounding them in various ways. This raises key questions. What do we consider to be mental health issue in Japan? How are notions of health imbricated in larger concerns of economic productivity? And the case of hikikomori, how do you navigate in the meantime?

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