In June, a 53-year-old Saitama man was arrested for allegedly dumping his mother’s corpse in a mountain ditch. The point, police say, was to conceal her death from the authorities in order to continue receiving her pension. Apparently it was a matter of survival. The man had no other source of income.
This would be merely sordid if it wasn’t, in a sense, increasingly typical. The number of adult children who remain helplessly dependent on their parents is growing alarmingly, says Shukan Post (Aug 2).
Case in point: A 69-year-old doctor has a son of 38 who graduated from university and went to work at a bank but, for reasons that are not clear, quit after two years and hasn’t worked since. He never leaves the house. The phenomenon is not unusual and goes by the name “hikikomori.” It became a social concern in the 1990s, when it primarily affected young people who, it was hoped, would grow out of it. But few did, and many sufferers now are well into middle age. What are their aging parents to do?
A survey the government’s Cabinet Office released last April quantifies the disquieting rise of the problem. In 2003, the number of single people aged 35-44 living with their parents was 1.91 million. In 2007 it was 2.62 million; in 2012, 3.05 million. Journalist Masaki Ikegami, who has researched the issue extensively, tells Shukan Post that of people aged 20 to 64 living in Tokyo’s Tamachi district, at least one in 20 is in a state of hikikomori – and 30% of them are over 40. That suggests a nationwide total of 300,000 hikikomori people over 40.
The doctor has his own clinic. At least his money won’t be running out any time soon. In fact, his major worry at this point seems to be the exorbitant inheritance tax his son will face when the family property ultimately passes to him. One possible solution, the doctor muses, is to hand over the property immediately, as a gift. That of course would mean living on as a guest in his own home – a state of affairs that wouldn’t be to everyone’s liking.
Then there’s the story of “Mr B,” 65, whose 39-year-old son (we’ll call him Mr C) is back home, with a small daughter, after a failed marriage. C’s wife was a nurse and basically supported the family, C never having done anything beyond occasional part-time work at convenience stores and the like. Mr B, retired after 40 years as a company employee, is at his wits’ end. His savings, unlike the doctor’s, will not suffice to support his son through an idle lifetime. There are other difficulties too. Mr C, for example, does not cut a sufficiently presentable figure to appear at his child’s school events. “I send my wife instead,” says Mr B. It’s rather sad for the little girl. Suffice it to say, concludes C ruefully, “I am not enjoying my retirement.”
Is it entirely the children’s fault? Or society’s? True, the economy collapsed just as they were coming of age, creating one, two or three (depending on who’s counting) “lost generations” of young people who never had a chance – or who, some say, were too spoiled or spineless to rise to the challenge. But counselor Fujiya Tomita claims it’s the parents who have most to answer for. “The parents were busy at work,” he says, “and the harder they worked the more prosperous they grew. Child-raising was left to daycare centers, to schools, to juku. The parent-child bond grew weaker.” Something snapped in the kids as a result, he seems to be saying – maybe the gumption that would have seen them through the tough times ahead.
In any case, sums up Shukan Post, “What needs to change is not just the children and not just the parents, but the family as a whole.” That’s tantalizing – but what the family should change into, the magazine declines to say.© Japan Today