Hikikomori is a Japanese term that describes people who stay holed up in their homes, or even just their bedrooms, isolated from everyone except their family, for many months or years. The condition was first described in Japan, but cases have since been reported in countries as far apart as Oman, Indian, the US and Brazil.
Now, where I come from these (unfortunate?) people are called shut-ins or a “recluse; a person who abnormally avoids any social contact by staying indoors most of the time” as in “an example of a shut in is an elderly lady who hasn’t left her house for a month because she is afraid to see people.”
In 1998, Carnegie Mellon researchers warned that the internet could make us into hermits. They released a study monitoring the social behavior of 169 people making their first forays online. The web-surfers started talking less with family and friends, and grew more isolated and depressed.
Is calling these people hikikomori instead of shut-ins just pop-culture-induced orientalism or is there really a difference between the two conditions?
I am reminded of an refreshing article by Amy Olberding, a presidential professor of philosophy at the University of Oklahoma, with the title: “Tidying up is not joyful but another misuse of Eastern ideas.” She describes the susceptibility of Americans to plain good sense if it can but be infused with a quasi-mystical ‘oriental’ aura. She cites Kondo mania, from the “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” show on Netflix, as a typical example of this affliction. Folding clothes as an organisational strategy is boring. But folding clothes as a mystically infused plan of life is alluring.
The professor goes on to explain how the words of Confucius and Sun Tzu have been leveraged into self-help advice on all kinds of subjects, from coaching your kid’s football team to improving your marriage. Wisdom from the ‘East’ has long been marketed to Westerners hoping to escape their existential maladies by seeking what is exotic, what promises to be more meaningful than what they have or can find locally.
The same goes for the “tiny house movement”, which used to be called living in trailers, and self driving cars, which used to be called taxis.