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The missing million in Japan
They were once called “the missing million”. The ‘hikikomori’ phenomenon emerged in the early 1990’s in Japan when there were reports of young people that began staying at home for months or even years at a time.
Authorities suggested that there were over a million people suffering from ‘hikikomori’ syndrome, but some researchers believe the actual number may be higher.
In April 2010, one ‘hikikomori’ man, 30 years old, killed and wounded his family members and set fire to his house. He had withdrawn from society for 14 years.
His parents had entrusted management of family finances to him but he gradually became addicted to Internet shopping and auctions and racked up about 3 million yen in debt.
He committed the alleged crimes after his father cancelled the Internet connection. The man was sentenced to 30 years in prison last December 7 but filed an appeal against the decision.
Still, the definition of Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare does not regard this withdrawal as a symptom of a psychotic disorder.
It says that a ‘hikikomori’ is a person that does not take part in society and remains at home, does not take part in or have interest in going to school or work, and does not have any close relationships other than with family.
Symptoms of anxiety and depression and unusual sleep patterns persist for at least six months.
After the stock market crash in 1990, the Japanese job market changed dramatically. Young people found themselves in a situation where lifetime employment at one company was no longer guaranteed.
To find employment immediately after graduation was not easy. Many young people, mainly those from families with means, reacted as if this was a case for shame and guilt and they became ‘hikikomori’.
A new concern over ‘hikikomori’ arose after last year’s tsunami. Paul Ballas, a practicing child psychiatrist with work in Japan, said that the March earthquake, tsunami and nuclear radiation leak could worsen problems due to the population displacement.
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