More Than 500K Japanese Millennials Rarely Leave Home

| by Sarah Zimmerman
An apartment buildingAn apartment building

More than half a million young people in Japan have chosen to live their lives as hermits, refusing to leave their homes even for work or school.

In a survey released by the Japanese government, approximately 541,000 people between the ages of 15 and 39 live in total isolation. This is a well-documented phenomenon known as "hikikomori," which is defined by the Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry as people who stay in their home for six months or more without leaving to socialize or to go to work or school.

Around 35 percent of the extremely reclusive population haven't left their homes for at least seven years, according to the Independent. Given the reclusive nature of those who are classified as hikikomori, it's difficult to know why these people choose to never leave their house. But, doctors think that psychological and cultural influences that began in the 1990s may have something to do with it.

"We do think that there is a psychological aspect to this condition -- that it stems from depression and anxiety -- but there are also cultural and societal influences at play," Kyushu University neuropsychiatrist Takahiro Kato told CNN.

The condition is most commonly found in well-educated, middle class men, who feel as though they are expected to succeed in their career and in their education.

Most who have symptoms of hikikomori choose to distract themselves from the realities of everyday life by staying at home, watching movies or TV, playing video games or reading comic books. 

"I just stayed in my room playing video games, watching films and sports programs," said Hideto Iwai, who went into his room at age 16 and did not come out for four years. 

Iwai told CNN that after failing to make it on his own at 15, he lost all hope in himself and in society overall. His story is common for those diagnosed with hikikomori, according to Kato

"When people don't succeed, they feel demoralized and that triggers the desire to shut themselves away," Kato said.

Similar types of reclusive behavior occur in China, Spain and the U.S., as well as other countries, although the phenomenon isn't as widespread as it is in Japan, reports the Independent.

Sources: Independent, CNN / Photo credit: DennisM2/Flickr

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