Self and salvation: visions of hikikomori in Japanese manga

Heinze, Ulrich GND; Thomas, Penelope

This article explores theoretical and popular views on the acute social withdrawal syndrome in Japan, known as hikikomori. Most sociologists contextualize hikikomori within the economic downturn of Japan and the subsequent economic pressure on individuals, also reflected in the growing number of furītā and NEET. Psychologically, hikikomori is a radical version of the otaku, the Internet and computer addict, who can communicate only within his virtual peer group. However, both sociological theories and popular narratives have recently observed a growing acceptance and even an improvement of the image of these psycho-social patterns. While the story of the charming otaku called Densha otoko (‘train man’) has been adapted into all visual media, some hikikomori, too, have been promoted to manga heroes, e.g., in Takimoto Tatsuhiko’s Welcome to the NHK and Oku Hiroya’s Mēteru no kimochi. Sociologist Ishikawa Ryōko reads hikikomori in her recent field study as a rather positive, though long-term process of self-confirmation. This change in the image of otaku and hikikomori therefore reflects a subliminal revolution of traditional and outdated Japanese concepts of obligation, work, and masculinity.