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The '8050 problem' - 'hikikomori' people entering 50s as parents on whom they rely enter their 80s.

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The word hikikomori is now almost as readily understood worldwide as in Japan. It refers to a wounded withdrawal from society, often to the cozy but cramped confines of one’s childhood bedroom. Some people get over it and resume active life in the outside world. Others don’t. It can drag on for years, for decades, for life.

The problem is easing and the number of sufferers decreasing, says the government. Not so, counters Shukan Toyo Keizai (Nov 3).

Hikikomori people are aging. Their surging numbers first made them noticeable in the 1990s. The economic bubble had burst, firms were retrenching and not hiring, and an entire young generation entered the adult world to a harsh and hostile welcome. The strongest thrived, the less strong settled for trudging through a succession of part-time jobs that paid poorly and led nowhere, and the weak fell off the rails altogether.

As time passes, hikikomori becomes less a youth problem and more one besetting the aging. A recurring media term is “the 8050 problem.” It refers to “children” in their 50s whose only means of support are parents in their 80s. A government Cabinet Office survey counted roughly 540,000 hikikomori people in 2015, down from 700,000 in 2010. Thus its optimistic assessment that the situation is easing. Toyo Keizai’s objection is that that survey covers only a restricted age group: 15-39. Of hikikomori people in their 40s and 50s the survey says nothing. But they of course are the core of the 8050 problem which the natural aging process is feeding.

At its worst, it’s macabre: corpses thrust into closets, as when a parent dies and the “child,” helpless outside the house and not knowing what to do about funeral arrangements, simply does nothing. Abandoning a corpse is a criminal offense, and Toyo Keizai says arrests have been made – in Nagasaki and in Fukutsu. In Sapporo, a daughter in her 50s, having lost her mother, seems to have simply wasted away. The two bodies were found together. In the house was some 90,000 yen in cash. Whatever the immediate cause may have been, it was not, apparently, poverty.

A national law that went into effect in 2015 provides for supplementary welfare payments to families in extreme distress – but, says Toyo Keizai, the application process can be so intimidating that eligible people brusquely turned away by unsympathetic officials meekly accept their dismissal and don’t press their claim. At the local level, some prefectures and municipalities do better than others, the magazine finds, but even programs with the best intentions can misfire. One such focuses on finding work for hikikomori people. That’s seen as an ideal solution, and can be – but all too often the job turns out to involve part-time work at low pay under harsh, cost-cutting conditions, subjecting highly vulnerable individuals to power harassment, sexual harassment and other forms of bullying, which can drive victims even deeper and more hopelessly into withdrawal.

Inevitably, the passage of time will turn the 8050 problem into the 9060 problem – and beyond that, what? Government optimism notwithstanding, Toyo Keizai seems more credible in its conclusion, which is that things are bound to get worse before they get better.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

10 Comments
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The Hikikomori problem is real for anyone living in Japan over some time. You can see them but cannot hold a conversation. There’s an in between group who can reasonably function at work but have a very limited social life, let alone marry and have kids. The mental problems are deep and it takes a lot of resources to solve them, resources the government just won’t invest in people. Eyeing inflation and a displeasure for foreign workers the powers that be will focus on robots and machines. The day the energy stops for some God-forbidding reason there won’t be people around able to help.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I blame the parents.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

I blame the parents.

Yes and no. I would guess for many, it's from their societal background (ie. schoolmates who want nothing to do with them, teachers that brush the problem aside, not being accepted by their coworkers, etc.). Another thing that I noticed is that in many parts of Japan, many just choose to keep to themselves without going up and helping out. @talaraedokko - You are right, especially partly on resources that the government just won't invest in people, unlike other countries.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

My BIL was borderline hikikomori when I moved here with my wife from Kyoto. He's managed to hang on to his job, and with our encouragement, started running with a local group. This provides him with social activities and health. We communicate with him often (our houses are attached), and my dog likes him.

The point is that the situation is not hopeless. But it does take time and care.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

In Sapporo, a daughter in her 50s, having lost her mother, seems to have simply wasted away. The two bodies were found together. In the house was some 90,000 yen in cash. Whatever the immediate cause may have been, it was not, apparently, poverty.

That is really both sad and frightening at the same time.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Maybe the problem is dying out?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Out of curiosity, why do they keep saying the term Hikikomori is known through out the world. Over 500 friends from various countries on my FB and countless American friends in Japan an no one knew the word with the exception of a few non-Japanese friends in Japan.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I'm still curious if this problem is really uniquely Japanese. Hikikomori exists everywhere but Japanese just categorized it and made a term for it, like tsunami. Tsunami exists all over the world but and is not uniquely Japanese at all.

Also, I feel like creating a term and categorizing people with a specific name that sounds demeaning only worsen the problem. When the whole society categorizes a person as Hikikomori, it only pushes people deeper.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

...and now that the media as assigned a random label to this minor phenomenon for everyone to go "tut tut" at, it will never again mention this, and it will disappear along with the herbivore males, parasite singles, and other non-existent social subgroups of yore...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A strong example is in 2014 Japanese movie '0.5mm' starring amazing actress Sakura Ando directed by her own sister.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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