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Italian and Japanese hikikomori: this is why they are different


Many are those who still believe that the hikikomori is an exclusively Japanese phenomenon, inextricably linked to cultural aspects. Personally I always expressed my disapproval towards this Idea, affirming that, instead, It is a social phenomenon regarding all economically developed nations on the planet.

Be careful however, this doesn’t mean that the hikikomori are all the same. There are some differences, even considerable ones, between one nation and the other. What causes them? In this post I tried to formulate my hypothesis.

The cultural causes

It’s evident and undeniable that Japanese culture has a whole set of factors which contribute to generating a particularly fertile terrain for the propagation of the phenomenon.

Let us think, for example, of the ultra-competitive social and scholastic system or of the role of the father-figure, often absent, both on a physical level, caused by extenuating work hours, and on an emotional level. Such an absence would cause an imbalance of the parental role on the mother, who will tend to develop with her child a symbiotic relation of dependency (defined with the term “amae” in Japan), a hyper-protective attitude that won’t allow the child to develop the skills necessary to react to life’s let-downs.

To these, numerous other sociocultural causal factors can be added, like, for example, bullying, particularly painful in such a collectivist society as the Japanese one, where being excluded from the group means having failed socially, or the absence of religious dogmas to be able to cling to in order to avoid sinking into existential depression, not to mention a drastic reduction of birth rates and a consequent increase of only-children.

I’ve dedicated a post to each of these subjects, so I will be brief, but the concept I feel the need to express is that the cultural, social, familial, and characterial causal factors at the base of the hikikomori are potentially infinite and it becomes really complex to try and identify them all without falling into forced arguments and generalization.

The pressures for social realization

All of the aspects mentioned have one thing in common, that is to say they contribute to increasing the exposition and vulnerability to the so called “pressure for social realization”, which, personally, I have always identified as the root cause of the hikikomori.

The causes from which such a pressure derives are really numerous and they vary from person to person. Some suffer more greatly from scholastic pressures, others more from work pressures, others still those pressures relative to being accepted by one’s peers (for example, you must be fashionable, you must be good at communicating, you must be likeable, you must be sporty, etc.). It all depends from one’s own personal characteristics, as well as the social, cultural, and familial environment.

The hikikomori, through withdrawal, wants to flee from such pressures, that have become unsustainable with time, and to, effectively, pull out of the “race”.

The differences between Italian and Japanese hikikomori

The pressures for social realization are very strong in all economically developed capitalist societies, not only in Japan.

The social environment of Japan is certainly one of the most competitive, and it’s definitely not by chance that the hikikomori in the Land of the Rising Sun are hundreds of thousands, but cultural characteristics represent only one factor: they aren’t, by themselves, able to justify the exclusivity of such a phenomenon.

Even if with the appropriate proportions, in fact, the social pressures are very strong in Italy as well and there are a whole set of sociocultural factors that favour the development of the hikikomori. For example the decrease in the number of births and the consequent increase of only-children (particularly exposed to such pressures), or the separation in younger generations from religious ideologies, an economic crisis that makes entering into the job world more difficult, not to mention the explosion of image culture exasperated by the very extensive spreading of social networks. This just to quote a few.+

And it is precisely the different causes of social pressure that determine the differences between the hikikomori.

To make a practical example, it seems like Italian hikikomori don’t isolate themselves entirely from the familial environment, but keep some contacts, however conflictual, with parents and family members. Japanese hikikomori, conversely, tend towards total reclusion, cutting of any sort of relation, even with family members.

Why this difference?

Because for Japanese hikikomori the parents represent, culturally, a stronger font of social pressure that Italian parents are for their children.

This argument can be made for all the differences that exist between one nation and the other, but not only, even between one region and another. It’s probable, in fact, that the hikikomori in the north of Italy have different characteristics to southern Italian ones and so on.


The hikikomori isn’t an exclusively Japanese phenomenon, as was believed at first, but regards all developed nations of the world, even if to varying degrees and with different characteristics.

Hikikomori of any nation will have their own peculiarities, determined, as has been stated, by different causes of social pressure, which can vary, both based on personal and sociocultural characteristics.

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