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Correspondent Friday, 18 October, 2002, 08:28 GMT 09:28 UK
Hikikomori violence
Masayuki Okuyama
Masayuki Okuyama carries personal protection spray
Phil Rees

The phenomenon of social withdrawal, or hikikomori was first drawn to the attention of the Japanese public following a series of highly publicised crimes.

Two years ago, a 17 year old hikikomori sufferer left his isolation and hijacked a bus, killing a passenger.

Another kidnapped a girl and held her captive in his bedroom for nine years.

A fear of hikikomori dominated newspaper headlines.

But gradually, the Japanese public has become more sympathetic to the million in its midst who shun the outside world.

Experts are quick to point out that most hikikomori are simply anti-social, not violent.

Tokyo city
It could happen to any young man on the street
Anger surfaces

However, the frustration that many sufferers experience - the desire to live a normal life but the inability to do so - often expresses itself in anger and aggression towards those around them.

Masayuki Okuyama's son, Yoichi became a recluse when he was fifteen.

He refused to leave the house and began threatening his parents.

One day while Masayuki was at work, Yoichi attacked his mother.

"I immediately called the police," he recalled. "We were told not to stay at home that night, since it was too dangerous.


My son said: "Please die. I want to claim your life insurance money. So die

Masayuki Okuyama

"We spent the night at a hotel, and came back the next morning. I was still sleepy, so I rested on the sofa. Then he assaulted me." Yoichi's behaviour became increasingly confrontational.

Masayuki fell seriously ill. After that, he decided that he'd had enough.

"I went through surgery for stomach cancer and when I returned from the hospital, my son said: "Please die. I want to claim your life insurance money. So die."

Death wish

Masayuki forced his son out of the house and provided money for him to buy his own flat, under the guardianship of a friend.

Yoichi is now 28 and has no contact with his father.

Masayuki complains that he had no one to turn to when his son became violent. That inspired him to establish a self-help association for the parents of hikikomori sufferers.

Japanese man
Deep rooted Japanese psyche may have influence on hikikomori sufferers
He sits amongst a pile of letters from distraught parents scattered around his small office. He receives about four or five a day. He read one out.

"When my husband goes to the kitchen, my son comes after him to attack him, so he can't even cook at home. He now has no choice but to sleep in the bathroom."

Another arrived that day.

"My son has become very violent since he became a high school student. He hit and kicked us every day, so we ran away from him and hid in the car.

"We often slept in a closet or stayed with our relatives."

Family problems

Masayuki says the problem of hikikomori is so vast that Japan's rudimentary welfare system cannot cope with the problem.

Most still regard the condition as a private family matter.

He remains traumatised by his experience bringing up a violent, reclusive child.

He carries a spray can of mace with him wherever he goes, in case Yoichi attacks him again. Masayuki has endured serious health problems, losing a leg and most of his lung and stomach to cancer.

"But being a parent of a hikikomori sufferer is a lot tougher than any of these things," he said.

Japan: The Missing Million: Sunday 20 October 2002 on BBC Two at 1915 BST

Reporter: Phil Rees
Produced and Directed: Darren Conway
Editor: Karen O'Connor
Deputy Editor: David Belton
Online Producer: Andrew Jeffrey

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Phil Rees
Japan: The Missing Million
Yasuo Okawara, Counsellor
"Japanese society is not capable of accepting people with different attitudes"
Dr Henry Grubb
"Time is the worst enemy of the child"
Hiroshi Sasaki
"It's been two or three years since I started to stay in this room all the time"
Hiroshi Sasaki's parents
"I think we put too much pressure on him"

See also:

08 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Links to more Correspondent stories are at the foot of the page.


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