Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Locked Up In A Room Alone: The Hidden Psychological Collapse Haunts Japanese And Americans


By Elaine Meinel Supkis

The New York Times ran an interesting but incomplete article this week about Japanese children and young adults locking themselves in a room for years and years and refusing to even see their own parents. This is not just a Japanese problem, I know of cases here in America. It is simply hidden from view, obviously.

From the New York Times:
Next to us was Shuichi, who, like Takeshi, asked that I use only his first name to protect his privacy. He was 20, wore low-slung jeans on his lanky body and a 1970's Rod Stewart shag and had dreams of being a guitarist. Three years ago, he dropped out of high school and became a recluse for a miserable year before a counselor persuaded him to join New Start. Behind him a young man sat on the couch wearing small wire-frame glasses and a shy smile. He ducked his head as he spoke, and his voice was so quiet that I had to lean in to hear him. After years of being bullied at school and having no friends, Y.S., who asked to be identified by his initials, retreated to his room at age 14, and proceeded to watch TV, surf the Internet and build model cars - for 13 years. When he finally left his room one April afternoon last year, he had spent half of his life as a shut-in. Like Takeshi and Shuichi, Y.S. suffered from a problem known in Japan as hikikomori, which translates as "withdrawal" and refers to a person sequestered in his room for six months or longer with no social life beyond his home. (The word is a noun that describes both the problem and the person suffering from it and is also an adjective, like "alcoholic.") Some hikikomori do occasionally emerge from their rooms for meals with their parents, late-night runs to convenience stores or, in Takeshi's case, once-a-month trips to buy CD's. And though female hikikomori exist and may be undercounted, experts estimate that about 80 percent of the hikikomori are male, some as young as 13 or 14 and some who live in their rooms for 15 years or more.
Many teens have this problem---starting in Jr. High, the vicious ones prey on the weaker ones, the sudden surge of harmones emboldens those who have social powers to go on the hunt to destroy or at least intimidate the weaker children. We all remember Jr High, don't we? I recall a girl who had to sew her own clothes being teased by rich, spoiled Country Club girls who lived in a semiresort in Arizona called..."Country Club Estates". Natch.

My solution was simple. I told the rich girls to lay off or I would punch them out after school.

I hated Jr. High, didn't think High School was much better, when I left on my 16th birthday, scholarship in hand to go to an university, I couldn't leave fast enough. Looooved the university! But all these transitions are difficult for many young people. And one can see why. Children can be very esquisitely cruel and their parents secretly encourage this. As an adult, when I had to deal with these same kids when my own went to school, it was infuriating, how nasty well to do adults could be. No wonder many of their children were cruel brats.

Our children tend to commit suicide or better still, shoot up the school and blow themselves away, too, or they use drugs which are easy to get. In Japan, drugs are hard to get so they resort to suicide or shut themselves away and live on the very rich fantasy world outsider Japanese artists have painstakingly constructed. Being psychological/social outcasts, the animators and writers of the alternate world fearlessly draw and make stories about all sorts of matters, especially magical/technical matrixes.

There is a lot of longing and wishful thinking in Japan due to the near total social collapse of the nuclear family. Many anime stories deal with this collapse, unlike the general population which tries hard to pretend it isn't happening. Despite a rich library of stories and artwork concerning the derth of children, loss of potential brothers and sisters, bullying in school, fear of being trapped as a cog in the bureauocracy, Japanese society churns along its set path heading towards disaster without deviation or examination by those running this vast, deadly machinery.

The illustration for this story I made are scenes from this lovely and funny anime about a shut in boy who is forced to begin interacting with the world by the efforts of some very self-centered and sometimes quite violent but tremendously loving dolls: Rozen Maiden Like many shut-ins, the boy, Jun, communicates with the outer world only through his computer and this is how he ends up with a magical set of dolls who can enter into his dream world and interact there as well as his waking world.

They force him to confront his psychological fears, one battle is him killing a monster which turns out to be made all of paper---the tests he took over the years. He is a very bright child like most hikikmori, and as he looks at the tests as he picks them off the ground, he remembers what happened.

He did very well in the beginning and the teachers praised him so the other students attacked him behind the teacher's backs so his scores could drop to their level. As someone who aced tests easily from day one, I can assure you, this process is very much at work in America, too, and the refusal of both the Japanese and American systems to deal with this in a creative way never ceases to amaze me.

Anyway, there is another well animated scene in Jun's dreamworld where he climbs a mountain of school desks and then they collapse. And talking flowers attack him, mocking his learning efforts. When he wakens and must venture into the real world, they show his torment and struggles to even go out the front doorin an amazingly true way, his increasing weakness and head spinning, crawling the last few feet to the front door.

Obviously, Japanese animators are interested in this mental illness. As usual, the NYT makes no mention of this, talking only to doctors and families of victims. I know from families here, they often just hope the young person will come out of the room and be "normal" suddenly without either themselves or their families changing.

Well, I can tell you this, I dealt with my difficulties by going out with a vengence. I took up political activism with a determination to use it to cease being isolated, cease being alone, cease being a victim. I decided to take action and take it to the streets.

Japan used to have activism, too, but it was smothered to death and now there is nearly none, just atomized, lonely, helplessness. Reminds me about here. When we had the few antiwar demonstrations in DC, I noted the energy, joy, running literally around, back and forth, of so many young people, dressed up for action and primed to make a loud noise, drumming drums and yelling.

South Korea doesn't have nearly so bad a problem with hikikmori as Japan and no wonder. The youth there go to many demonstrations, they will travel thousands of miles to demonstrate and they do this with verve, energy and lots of noise. They even fight! And the Chinese!

Watch out. They are very energized now. Ready and raring to go. Europe is waking up from soft dreams, too, but then, look at the Muslim world.

It is abroil. Literally fighting tooth and nail and dying in great numbers because they believe it is very important to go out and do something, anything, everything. The world wants to lock them into rooms and throw away the key. But they are taking the doors off the hinges.
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