Nearly 1.5 Million Japanese Living in Extreme Isolation After COVID-19 Lockdowns

Nearly 1.5 Million Japanese Living in Extreme Isolation After COVID-19 Lockdowns
A shopper wearing a protective mask pushes a shopping cart at Japan's supermarket group Aeon's shopping mall as the mall reopens amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Chiba, Japan, on May 28, 2020. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)
Aldgra Fredly

Japan has seen an increasing prevalence in the “hikikomori” phenomenon following COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, with an estimated 1.46 million people isolating themselves from society by staying at home for an extended period.

A survey by the Cabinet Office found that about 20 percent of the total 1.46 million hikikomori—a term used in Japan to refer to people who barely left their homes for over six months—cited COVID-19 for their social withdrawal.

The poll, published on March 31, was conducted in November last year involving 30,000 participants aged between 10 and 69, Jiji Press reported.

It found that 21.5 percent of people aged 15 to 39 had socially withdrawn for six months to less than a year. Almost 21 percent of this age group cited interpersonal difficulties as their main reason, while 18.1 percent cited the pandemic.

According to the survey, 21.9 percent of those aged 40 to 64 have isolated themselves for less than two to three years, with 44.5 percent of this age group citing job loss as the trigger for social retreat and 20.6 percent blaming the pandemic.

The estimated number of hikikomori was higher than the 1.15 million population in 2019.

Saito Tamaki, a professor at Tsukuba University and a leading expert in the research of hikikomori, said the number may eventually rise to 10 million. Tamaki said most hikikomori rely on their parents for food and shelter.

“Hikikomori are defined as having spent six months or more not participating in society, without mental illness being the main cause,” he told reporters in 2019.

Tamaki said that hikikomori may not necessarily be mentally ill but rather experience distressing withdrawal from society owing to various difficulties in life, such as job loss or the trouble of getting back into the labor force.

“There’s still a lack of respect for individuals,” Tamaki said. “People who aren’t useful to society or their family are seen as having no value.”

Tamaki said that families may gradually be detached from society out of a sense of shame, which can make it difficult for hikikomori to reintegrate into society on their own after a prolonged period of social withdrawal.

“People who have been withdrawn from society for a long time feel that their lives have no meaning or value, and they become extremely miserable. It’s too painful for them to see their situation as being their own fault, and so they begin to blame their parents for not raising them properly,” he said.

“They may imagine that they were abused even though they were not, and their grievances against their family can easily lead to violence,” Tamaki added.

Social Isolation Among Older Adults

Meanwhile, about one-third of older people in the United States experience isolation and loneliness after the pandemic, according to the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging.

The survey was conducted via phone in January 2023 to a randomly selected 2,563 adults aged between 50 to 80 in the United States. It was published on March 13 and the sample was subsequently weighted to reflect the U.S. population.

The poll found that 34 percent of older adults in the United States reported feeling isolated from others, which is down from 56 percent in June 2020 but still higher than 27 percent in 2018.

About 33 percent of older adults reported infrequent social contact once a week or less with people outside their homes, which is lower than 46 percent in 2020 but remains higher than the 28 percent observed in 2018.

Moreover, 37 percent of older adults said they felt a lack of companionship in the past year, compared with 41 percent in June 2020 and 34 percent in 2018.

“While the proportion of older adults who felt isolated from others in the past year is now lower than in the first three months of the pandemic, a substantial number still report feeling socially isolated,” the report reads.

Aldgra Fredly is a freelance writer covering U.S. and Asia Pacific news for The Epoch Times.
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