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Housewives going crazy home alone all day behind facade of normal life

45 Comments

The sunglasses and mask are a clue to her condition – she prefers to be invisible. And yet she wants to talk. She hasn’t talked to anyone in years, other than her husband and son, who know nothing of her state of mind.

Journalist Masaki Ikegami, writing in Shukan Asahi (Jan 30), encountered her in his research on “hikikomori,” chronic withdrawal from society. It’s a vast problem, encompassing between 700,000 and 2.5 million individuals, depending on how you define it and where you set the boundaries, but even the latter figure may be an understatement. Hikikomori conventionally summons up images of people living alone in their rooms. But “Mrs A” is a “hikikomori housewife,” which seems oxymoronic but is not, Ikegami argues. The dysfunction is real. But it shows less, and so the statisticians are apt to miss it.

Mrs A is 51 and lives in a Tokyo-area “bedtown.” As Ikegami describes her, she almost never leaves the house. She chats online and shops online. Otherwise, her human contacts are limited to her husband, a company employee, and her son, a high school student. (Would she have been able to face an interviewer without mask and sunglasses?) She gets dinner ready on time and does a minimum of housecleaning. The veneer of normality intact, the family apparently has no suspicion of the crippling dread the outside world inspires in her. Either she’s a very good actress or her husband and son are too busy with their own lives to have much attention to spare for her – because this has been going on for 15 years now.

Fifteen years ago she was working. We’re not told what her job was but it seems to have been a responsible one. Among female hikikomori sufferers, Ikegami explains, many are victims of sexual and power harassment, and so it was with Mrs A. Her boss was a tyrant. She prided herself on being “the only one who could stand up to him,” but her resistance weakened and finally cracked. The world was just too “unreasonable” to cope with. She withdrew from it, and has never rejoined it.

How many are in her shoes? Ikegami says there’s no hard data, the issue being still beneath the research radar, but scanning the Net leads him to numerous others – to “Mrs B,” for instance, 34 and living in the Kinki region. Unlike Mrs A, Mrs B had problems connecting early on. In high school all her friends seemed to be breezing through – only she had to really study, and even at that she barely scraped by. She made it into a small local college but dropped out. A succession of part-time jobs led nowhere and she figured she’d better get married. She did, to someone she met at work, but without much enthusiasm. A move to a strange city when her husband was transferred put the seal on her isolation. She rarely leaves the house, does nothing all day, and suffers from chronic exhaustion. Her husband offers to help with the housework but in fact does little. “He’s a nice enough guy,” she says, “but he’s not the type to take a woman seriously.”

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” the American Henry Thoreau wrote 150-odd years ago. He wasn’t thinking of women, or of Japan, or of the 21st century – but he may as well have been.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

45 Comments
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She gets dinner ready on time

And therein lies the problem. The work dynamic is so dysfunctional here that it carries over & into the home. Gender "roles" are clearly defined from the beginning, so either role is non-negotiable. Even the term "housewife" is seldom used where I come from...

5 ( +7 / -3 )

Her boss was a tyrant....but her resistance weakened and finally cracked. The world was just too “unreasonable” to cope with. She withdrew from it, and has never rejoined it.

More often than not women in Japan are afforded the choice of opting out of the workforce when the going gets tough. This is not a choice this woman's Japanese husband would be likely to have if he were pitted against a tyrannical boss.

Given their lack of choices, it is much more often the men in Japan that "lead lives of quiet desperation." They are by and large stuck with their lot in life. Career/job changes are highly discouraged, lose contact with the children in the event of divorce — no reset button, no getting off the escalator, a bleak existence for many.

18 ( +21 / -4 )

The headline of housewives "going crazy" seems at odds with this story and the Thoreau quote at the end about "quiet desperation". Which is it? Overall, the writer here seems to have just read one piece in Shukan Asahi and then fluffed it up with some emotive commentary. Better to just stick with a translation of the original article by a journalist.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Japanese salarymen .... Buy your wife some flowers, take her out for dinner at least once a week. Its not hard ... treat her like your Queen. Do your part .... She's done hers.

8 ( +16 / -10 )

This is one of many reasons why women in Japan should be working, granted in jobs that give them a sense of purpose.

Staying home all day doing basically nothing productive kills the spirit and of course damages the Japanese economy. Working and maintaining a home/family is not for the lazy but if you can manage it your life is so much more fulfilling. Stay at home moms are parasites on society and also a threat to their own mental health as this article clearly points out.

-8 ( +9 / -17 )

@zurcronium

Staying home all day doing basically nothing productive

Stay at home moms are parasites on society

These kinds of statements are a big part of the values and valuation problem. I agree that women should have equal opportunity to participate in all areas of society, but to devalue the role of any homemaker and suggest the unpaid "shadow work" they do is not productive is a disservice to their worth in the society and economy as they make it possible for fed and rested paid and under-paid workers to go add value to companies and institutions, and they raise the next generation of workers.

13 ( +17 / -3 )

Staying home all day doing basically nothing productive kills the spirit and of course damages the Japanese economy. Working and maintaining a home/family is not for the lazy but if you can manage it your life is so much more fulfilling.

What a ridiculous comment. Staying at home to raise kids is very fulfilling. I wish I could do it to be honest - I envy that my wife is able to do so.

For the most part, working while raising kids is something people do out of necessity, not out of choice. I know a couple of female phd holders who stopped working to raise their kids full-time.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

' I know a couple of female phd holders who stopped working to raise their kids full-time.'

I know other female PhD holders who quit the company I work for to find jobs abroad where their they would be valued and paid more in accordance with their abilities and qualifications. People with PhDs are generally smart enough to know the reality of the workplace or quickly see it. I'm sure some women just want to stay at home but I'm sure there are many others who know that banging your head against the wall in the workplace isn't worth it.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

What happened to the great Japanese work ethic? Lonely housewives have no one to blame but themselves. Get off your fat bum, get out there and work! "Idle hands are the Devil's workshop".

-5 ( +9 / -13 )

What Jimizo said. My wife (with an MA) made the same decision and I believe her plane broke the glass ceiling the moment it hit cruising altitude over the Pacific--she landed as a mgr. in the US, instantly valued and deemed equal by her peers/society. Our return here was due to other reasons and fortunately she had a family business to return to (her dad is an old-school tyrant though).

That said, women should be allowed to do what they like. If they want to work, great. If they don't want to work and their husbands are cool with that/they have the means, great. Personally, I wouldn't have fancied a girl who wanted to be a housewife, but my preferences don't extend to judging an entire gender in a different culture. That said, men and parents/in-laws who impose their traditionalist mores on women piss me off. Fortunately that's becoming increasingly rare in uber-urbanized Japan.

That said, #2, I took a year off between jobs, from when my child was 6 mo's to 18 mo's and while it had a lot of rewards, I might have gone crazy eventually. Not that I understand hikikomori syndrome, but I think you need something in your life, beyond hobbies, that's your own.

I expect the next Kuchikomi will be on how many bored housewives are occupying their time in love hotels.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

The parasites of society are the super rich and are in control to assure that Earth prisoners get their proper punishment. Be brave, and do not reproduce, but be brave enough to marry whom you love......it is your only chance for happiness..

7 ( +9 / -2 )

I know other female PhD holders who quit the company I work for to find jobs abroad where their they would be valued and paid more in accordance with their abilities and qualifications.

Both the women I was referring to live in the US.

That said, men and parents/in-laws who impose their traditionalist mores on women piss me off. Fortunately that's becoming increasingly rare in uber-urbanized Japan.

I've found that the driving force for women not working after children are born seems to be the women themselves. In my experience, most women in Japan do not want to work after having children.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

"I've found that the driving force for women not working after children are born seems to be the women themselves. In my experience, most women in Japan do not want to work after having children."

Are you in a large urban area? My wife and almost all her gfs are around 40 yrs. old. Of course, a few are unmarried and work but most are married with kids, all college-educated, solidly middle to upper middle class and I can only think of one woman, a doctor's wife, who is a full-time housewife. Most are FT workers. I'm sure in some cases it's necessary, in some preference, but overall the idea that they're all secretly longing to be housewives seems farfetched. How this anecdotal evidence compares to truly affluent areas or the countryside, I can't say.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Are you in a large urban area?

The largest.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

This is where eikaiwa lessons could be useful.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I've said it before will say it again, the lives of most salaymen & housewives ( I hate both terms actually LOL!) are pretty dismal & depressing at BEST!

The whole work/life thing in Japan has been severely screwed up for almost 40yrs now & its all really coming home to roost.

The only way I survived here was for the mrs & I to ditch the BS lousy typical life of most married couples, its so utterlu soul destroying......

I am not surprised women who stay at home are steadily going bonkers, I fully expect it!

But as I have also said, I DONT CARE, because so many here don't give a damn about their own lives why should I worry about them!

I think its a shame, sad, totally avoidable, BUT the men & women of Japan have got to WANT a better life, most don't, gaman & shoganai have won big time, but the country is losing more & more as time passes!

8 ( +10 / -3 )

First and foremost..A woman that is a housewife has the GREATEST value. Why? A wife is the glue of the family. She keeps everyone grounded in the family unit. She is indispensable! Anyone can work, but how many woman can truly take care of there families (children and husband). It is laughable at some of the comment on here how a housewife is a parasite or somehow adds no value. Ask ALL the deviant children running around the US if they had a good mom at home. More times than not, they dont! Mom is out working and so is dad and no one is raising the children. If a woman works thats fine to! I personally see more VALUE in housewives than one who works...my wife, cooks and cleans and that adds a LOT of Value to our family, but its her smile and the way she takes care of our family that means the most! I thank GOD everyday for my amazing wife!

2 ( +8 / -6 )

I'm with you Augie.

And as far as working parents are concerned, I have less respect for any family with young children that could afford to have one parent at home taking care of the children, yet still have both parents working. People should raise their own kids, it makes for stronger morals, and values.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

People should raise their own kids, it makes for stronger morals, and values. your saying that every parent has the right skills to raise there children, and teachers/ daycare workers do not! my mother brought up my sisters and myself as a single working mother, she was far from a housewife. and we are all now successful with children of our own. my children go to school and daycare and my wife and myself both work. we bring up our children with our values juts fine. oh and when we retire we should be comfortably well off and have plenty to support ourselves and our childrens future. All done without a stay at home housewife.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Poor state of affairs! Many Japanese families are so deeply stuck in the everyday chores and work life and forget completely about how precious it is yo have each other. Instead of realizing this, they only harden their shell and lock the other one out. It's the disease of the system that the modern job life has fallen into.

But women are not without blame either. At least the ones who only tolerate a safe and comfortable family life where the husband does his daily salaryman job from morning to evening so that she can have a convenient and save life.

What they all really need to do is to get out of their comfort zones and experience life! That includes taking risk and accepting the dangers that come with it. Otherwise you've never really lived!

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Unlike Mrs A, Mrs B had problems connecting early on. In high school all her friends seemed to be breezing through – only she had to really study, and even at that she barely scraped by. She made it into a small local college but dropped out. A succession of part-time jobs led nowhere and she figured she’d better get married. She did, to someone she met at work, but without much enthusiasm. A move to a strange city when her husband was transferred put the seal on her isolation. She rarely leaves the house, does nothing all day, and suffers from chronic exhaustion.

This seems to be a mercury issue that would affect the brain (memory) then later you have the fatigue issues with the liver getting worse. => I would get a liver function test. How many mercury (amalgam) tooth fillings do you have? (need to switch to ceramic) Could be other metals or medications with metals causing the issue also.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

This place has a lot of issues. Everyone just wants to do what the other guy is doing. Very boring and waste of this incredible journey. Monkey see Monkey do.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Badsy, it sounds more like chronic depression than mercury poisoning.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Top tip: guys stop working around the clock 24/7 take a bit of time off and spend time with your family its precious time that once it has gone its gone.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Let me get this right. These women don't even need to get a job, have running hot and cold water, internet, shops, libraries, TVs, safe streets, washing machines, micro waves, and they are .....in need of sympathy?

Perhaps they could jog, get a part-time job, study English, play tennis, pick up papers, volunteer at retirement villages, or any of a couple of 100 things I could think of.

Heck, they could even study counselling and help people with REAL problems.

12 ( +14 / -2 )

Sounds like chronic vitamin D deficiency. Not going outside makes it harder to get vitamin D, thus it is a negative feedback loop.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Womenomics is not about the economy but about the culture and the society. Too much misogyny coupled with too much resignation on the part of capable married women and isolated single middle-aged women have led to this sorry state of affairs.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Top tip: guys stop working around the clock 24/7 take a bit of time off and spend time with your family its precious time that once it has gone its gone.

Yep, a lot women want men to lead the way. In this case, take the family out of the house on the weekend and/or encourage the wife to go out and enjoy life while you stay home and take care of the kids. There are women I have met though that don't let their husband take care of the kids.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I've said it before will say it again, the lives of most salaymen & housewives ( I hate both terms actually LOL!) are pretty dismal & depressing at BEST!

The whole work/life thing in Japan has been severely screwed up for almost 40yrs now & its all really coming home to roost

I think its a shame, sad, totally avoidable, BUT the men & women of Japan have got to WANT a better life, most don't, gaman & shoganai have won big time, but the country is losing more & more as time passes!

GW -- spot on. When I was in Japan, my then-fiance and I used to go out for dinner and drinks most Friday nights. And I could not help but notice, and often commented on, that most Japanese folks out on Friday were either groups from work (mostly men), or pairs of gals out together. And that, as you note, is a result of the whole work/life balance being scrwed up. I could not ever understand why guys would want to be out drinking with people they spend all week with, rather than be with the person who they are supposed to love, and be their soulmate. I could not wait to spend that time decompressing with her, laughing, and setting the stage for a wonderful weekend. But that is not, and I doubt ever will be the Japanese male mentality or lifestyle. No wonder an all-world beauty and incredibly sexy lady like Aya Sugimoto got divorced because of a "sexless marriage".

5 ( +8 / -3 )

"The sunglasses and mask are a clue to her condition – she prefers to be invisible. "

Ummm, no, it says nothing at all. Could be she buys into the anti-pollen products people cover themselves in. Could be she's like the Darth Vader ladies who hide from the sun. Could be she DOES want to be invisible, but because of a rash of acne or other skin condition. If anything someone desperately trying to cover-up sticks out; it doesn't say they are necessarily trying to be invisible.

In any case, while I feel sorry for this woman, I agree with those that the whole 'hikikomori' problem is one brought about by the whole 'gaman' and 'shouganai' society here. In fact, the word hikikomori is used in this article and has been adopted into English as is because there is no translation due to the fact that it's a massive problem here but not the same elsewhere. The opening lines of this article say, "And yet she wants to talk" -- so go do it! Those in loveless relationships and who hate their lives and wait until their death bed to express their wishes that they had done things different had every step of their lives to do so, especially in a nation so rich and full of opportunities like this one is. Is it easy? No, but doing nothing is a choice in and of itself, and that goes for all unhappy people, and not just the housewives who allow themselves to end up in this kind of situation. There are definitely problems with the attitudes of men towards women, and even vice-versa, that need to be worked on, but what exactly should be done in this woman's case that would help her out of her choice to have given up? She says herself her husband 'is a nice enough guy', so what exactly should the world do for her? Perhaps he also has a pretty rotten life but has decided to give up and go with the flow.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

A lot of people are just plain shy despite our modern 24/7 propaganda machines telling us otherwise.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Not communicating to anyone except with her husband and son? If her son is of school age, she can mixed up with the other housewives. Otherwise, can work for 4 hrs or get a new hobby. Some women hide in the comfort of their family and home and lost their personal will.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"crippling dread the outside world . . . The world was just too “unreasonable” to cope with. She withdrew from it, and has never rejoined it." - article

“Mrs A” isn't alone in her assessment of the 'world'. That doesn't mean she shouldn't enjoy some personal world of her own making. Either exercise, creative or passive volunteer options immediately come to mind.

It's hard to tell if “Mrs A” is concerned over her isolation or whether it has become her 'normal'. Of course living conditions that include "does nothing all day, and suffers from chronic exhaustion" are clear enough indications of a variety of depressions.

One well wonders where her family doctor is on this or if social coaching and encouragement options are part of her local options. Depression takes many forms and many rob the sufferer from a feeling of well being and satisfaction with the beneficial activities of a life engaged in their own interests. Saddening.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Not communicating to anyone except with her husband and son? If her son is of school age, she can mixed up with the other housewives

Perhaps she's escaping the tyranny of the housewives - superficial gossip mongers with a ton of self-limiting, peer-controlling beliefs and behaviors.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

their worth in the society and economy as they make it possible for fed and rested paid and under-paid workers to go add value to companies and institutions, and they raise the next generation of workers.

Working men and woman do all of the above and they work as well contributing to society, not weighing it down as parasite housewives do. And what do parasite housewives create at home, parasite kids. Fact is if Japanese women were working at the same levels of other developed countries Japans GDP would be 10-15% stronger creating jobs for their kids. Some cannot find work, that is true, but many choose to say home and watch TV and eat bon-bons turning into helicopter moms or sadly withdrawing from the world as is cited above.

For the most part, working while raising kids is something people do out of necessity, not out of choice. I know a couple of female phd holders who stopped working to raise their kids full-time.

Many women work as they find that their lives are better if they work and do not stay home all day doing nothing of value. Some do have to work but that is another issue. Many could and should work but do not as they are lazy parasites. Keeping a house and preparing meals takes a couple of hours a day at most. People are not living on farms any longer. So what do the stay at home women do for the other 10 hours of the day? Watch TV eating bon-bons while getting fat and depressed.

The issue of the mental health of salary men in Japan is an important one to consider but that is off topic. Fact is youth in Japan are rejecting both traditional gender roles, young men are becoming herbivores and woman are working and rejecting married life entirely.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@jcapan "I expect the next Kuchikomi will be on how many bored housewives are occupying their time in love hotels." Hahaha, spot on :)

3 ( +3 / -0 )

No, there is no hard data on numbers but that doesn't stop bloggers from speculating like they have done with high school enjo kosai and other Japanese phenomena that makes a good story and gets clicks.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Having too much time on your hands doesn't help. This isn't all housewives, but there is a large subset like this. Anyway things are changing now, so I think this group is decreasing.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

My wife and I used to go out a lot but as time goes on other things become more important like the kids. Someone said 'soulmates' earlier... pass me the bucket. Yeah Soulmates? Had a few of those in the past. I wish my current soul mate would make the most of her Masters Degree and do something. If I found out that she had a lover I would be over the moon. Would I like to go for a drink with my wife or a co-worker? Hmmm... depends on who won't nag me.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I think you have to have depression to understand depression. I am so happy I am one of those crazy happy people.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The numbers given for hikikomori are utter tosh. Chronic social withdrawal is well know in many countries. I had an uncle in 1950s Illinois who was "hikikomori." There is not a shred of solid evidence that "hikikomori" is common within Japan or that it is more common in Japan than other countries. There was a big flap about "hikikomori" in 2004-2005. Then, it disappeared from the radar screen. Every so often a journalist with nothing else to write about or a NGO trying to get money to "treat hikikomori" tries to rekindle the fire. So far, this has not worked.

1 ( +2 / -2 )

bullfighter,

the wsj just estimated the number between 500,000 and 2 million in Japan. Other countries have reported it as well but no where near the Japan level.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-fight-to-save-japans-young-shut-ins-1422292138

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Housewives going crazy home alone all day behind facade of normal life

Rather offensive description of the mental condition noted in the article. Then again, tabloid headlines are stock in trade for JT writers.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Paradox.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Don't use this kind of article to diss stay-at-home moms. These days, being able to live on one income, and have the other spouse devoted to keeping house and child-rearing, is a luxury. It means the employed spouse has a salary high enough to pay all the bills for a family and provide a comfortable standard of living.

The women in the article might benefit from working outside the home, but that's their choice, isn't it? Their problem is that they have given up socially and don't even want that choice.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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