October 19, 2008

Hikikomori Are People Too

A Japanese software company named Avex produces videos of people looking into the camera. These “starers” (who are all female, and nearly all young) have a tough gig. They need to be neutral and non-threatening, but shouldn't just stare blankly. (You can see the videos at the link above; to end a video, hit the button on your screen’s bottom right corner.)

You see, Avex wants to help the estimated one-million Japanese boys and men who have contracted the anti-social syndrome called "Hikikomori." (Those afflicted are also called Hikikomori.) Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare defines such a sufferer as "an individual who refuses to leave their parents' house, and isolates themselves away from society in their homes for a period exceeding six months.”

Hikikomori victims are almost exclusively male. (What, women aren’t ever interested in avoiding all live human interaction?) And the Avex videos allow the socially excluded to practice having a stranger gaze at them. Avex’s company literature states that their videos helps the Hikikomori “handle the fact that a sentient being sits across from them and awaits interaction."
This France 24 article gives more background on the problem (and has mildly inappropriate material toward the end). The piece's reliability may be a bit suspect, though. It quotes a purported American Hikikomori, which is absolutely ridiculous. I find it impossible to believe that a red-blooded American (or French-speaking Belgian) would forgo all live human interaction in order to play video games.

ADDENDUM: Hikikomori can be cured! A Reuters story out of Lagos, Nigeria tells of a father who took his 20-year old son to court on charges of "idleness." For refusing to obey his parents and for not engaging in productive activities, the young man got 30 strokes of a cane —right there!— and was sentenced to six months in prison. Situation resolved.

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