There are lots of beautiful, amazing things about Japanese culture and society. I love the privilege of being able to share them with you. But I also believe, above all else, in truth. Which is why I don't shy away from the stuff that might not be all unicorns and rainbows.
The meaning of the word "hikikomori" falls somewhere between the English "recluse" and "hermit." Hikikomori are people who don't (or seldom) leave home. As opposed to a recluse, who may just not be sociable, but be perfectly functional in society when they need to be. Or a hermit, who's withdrawn completely and lives in a cabin in the woods.
I think the reason that hikikomori are so common in Japan is partly due to the society. Everybody knows that Japanese society is a very strict one. There are rules governing everything, from the ways you can use chopsticks to the order in which colleagues should sit in when riding together in a taxi.
The flipside of all of these rules is an extreme aversion to failure. In Japan, it's not uncommon for a leader to take responsibility for any failure by resigning. It's a major part of the reason that I've seen 6 Prime Ministers in my not-quite-5 years here.
Another side effect of the strict society is the hikikomori. Hikikomori have usually failed at something. Some did badly in school. Some haven't worked out well with the opposite sex. Recently, I even saw on a drama one girl who ended up being a hikikomori because a guy called her ugly.
The thing is I don't think Westerners can really be recluses of the hikikomori variety. If you don't get up and go to work, you can't support yourself. And your parents or whoever else aren't going to keep leaving food on your bedside table if you refuse to brave the 10-minute walk to the supermarket. Not to mention the school-aged hikikomori. What do you mean, you're 13 and you've decided that going to school is too hard? Let me introduce you to my friend the truant officer.
When I first came here, hikikomori were bad ju-ju. Not in that they were bad people or something, but in that, somebody should have been doing something to help them. But I'm kind of re-evaluating that. The truth is that lately, I'm leaning (almost horizontal) towards being a hikikomori. One thing led to another, and being around people is kind of painful.
I'm not like some hikikomori who CAN'T go out or anything. And it's not like there isn't at least one place I still really enjoy going to. But I don't see the point in making myself go out if it's not fun. Spending my weekends and weeknights, curled up under a blanky (snowed earlier this week- Spring, where are you?) and watching J-dramas is fine by me. In fact, as a Japanese student and a writer, watching the ridiculous amount of dramas that I go through (an average of 11 episodes on the days I'm not at work) counts as studying in more ways than one.
I expect I will go back to the real world at some point. I suppose the writer in me doesn't have a choice. Unless I want to write re-hashings of J-dramas or anime, all the material is outside. But for now, I'm not sure that retreat is such a bad thing.