what does the hikikomori phenomenon tell us about "intern" labor market in Japan?

wikipedia article is here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori

So it sounds like they have got a whole lot of young men, including of average and above average intelligence, fully supported by their parents and not doing anything beyond playing games? reading books? anyway, just basically not doing anything of any clear value to themselves or to anybody else.

The above means that they constitute, potentially, a labor force of people willing to work for small or even zero wages if the work were sufficiently interesting or rewarding in terms of social status and other intangibles. Except, this “potentially” bit does not seem to translate into reality.

So how come? Are Japanese businesses absolutely uninterested in training and using low cost interns? Or are the businesses interested, but let’s say the distinct work culture of the modern Japanese workplace would not provide any “intangible rewards” to an underpaid intern and instead, let’s say, work to crush his ego on a daily basis for no reason?

Or are the Japanese computer games too exciting to exchange for a life of working, learning and riding the overflowing commuter train?

A related question would be, if the hikikomori don’t feel like being interns, are there any niches in the Japanese higher education system where they could fit in at a cost that would be reasonable to their parents? Or does the education system have better things to do than trying to make sense of and somehow addressing one of the country’s biggest social problems?

I’m not sure that you’ve read your own link. There is nothing in it about interns, and there’s nothing to indicate that this is a distinctly Japanese phenomena. “In Western terminology this group may include individuals suffering from social phobia or social anxiety problems. This could also be due to agoraphobia, avoidant personality disorder or painful or extreme shyness.”

Some people are afraid of the world, depressed, shy, or whatever. That’s just as true in Japan as the US. Without actual prevalence metrics, it’s possible that Japan’s rate is lower than other nations.

Sage Rat, I agree that on closer inspection the specific claims of Mr. Tamaki Saito are described as discredited. Nevertheless, it does not appear that he is being laughed out of the discussion room as a nutjob, and for whatever reason no additional better numbers are being cited.

Perhaps more meaningful data is to be found in the article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NEET which inter alia discusses Japan. That article claims 500K - 850K numbers although not specifically for the “shut ins”.

I guess I am not sure if this number of people should or should not be thought of as a “social problem”. It might be a social problem for their specific generation (presumably a fairly small one, given the declining population) but not necessarily for the larger Japanese society at present mostly consisting of older people with other concerns.

So what is the connection between “the hikikomori phenomenon” and the “‘intern’ labor market in Japan?”

let’s reformulate it as a connection between NEET and intern labor market (or lack of it) in Japan. See the connection there?

Moving this one to IMHO. I just don’t see a General Question.

samclem Moderator

What I’ve heard in the past is that these are people who grew up watching their parents work fanatically for their corporations, with the promise that with an extreme work ethic and complete devotion they’d get lifetime employment and many other benefits in return. Then the companies fired them, and all that extra work and loyalty came to nothing. So why bother? In other words, the system screwed over their parents, so they don’t buy into the system. The old social contract was violated.

I don’t think I buy disillusionment with the economy as a significant cause here, especially as the phenomenon requires parents with enough income to support their children into adulthood. Seems to have more to do with general social anxiety and depression on their part; just how Japanese society and culture interact with said anxiety to produce acute withdrawal is tougher to suss out.

the article is interesting if light on numbers. The $8K per year “rental sister” outreach workers sound, err, surreal.

Well, if the problem is a real one and not just a panic over a thousand weirdos, then these people constitute both a distinctive market niche and a labor pool for organizations that can offer them something interesting enough to do with their time.

Japan is known for its high savings and loyalty towards family.

But if your theory were correct, there’d be a strong and obvious correlation with out of work parents. I haven’t done a ton of reading about this, but nothing that I have read has suggested that that may be the case.


The Wikipedia article actually says Mr. Saito admitted himself that he invented the “one million hikkomori in Japan” figure, although there’s not a cite provided for this.

I have no doubt that hikkomori exist in Japan, but as Sage Rat already pointed out, they also exist in the West. This isn’t a subject I know much about, but Japan doesn’t have a great reputation for recognizing and treating mental health problems. It may be that most hikkomori would, in the US, be diagnosed with a specific disorder and be in therapy and/or on medication.

I’d suggest we’ve got a lot of the same thing going on in this country. And more all the time.

The bottom line is the majority of people were raised to expect the ready availability of middle-class or middle management work for a wage which buys a middle-class or better lifestyle. And now the supply of those jobs is far smaller than the supply of workers who expect them.

So wages are trying to fall towards the market clearing price, but there are plenty of folks who won’t (yet) do mid-level work for minimum wage or even less since it doesn’t give them anything like the lifestyle they expected to have. So they don’t take those jobs until / unless there are no other alternatives.

Even if many formerly middle-class folks do eventually accept a lifetime of working poverty, there still will be far more would-be workers than work.

It will be interesting to watch the next 15 years.

it may be that you can find plenty of American “mental health professionals” willing to “treat” private Bradley Manning with medications for his abnormal psychological functioning that is, in practice, caused by living under conditions that make Auschwitz look like a health resort. Similarly, if the normal response of a significant number of Japanese young men to their environment as it is now is to become NEET or even, God forbid, hikikomori, there might be no shortage of people wearing lab coats willing to make money drugging them into… well, a different form of submission. I mean, these folks are not exactly rebelling as it is.

IMHO it would make more sense to give them something more interesting and meaningful to do with their life.

People don’t shut themselves in their bedrooms for years just because they’re bored.

From what I hear, this is also the case in the United States (and very likely most other wealthy countries too). Don’t you read lots of stuff about young Americans living in their parents’ basements and spending all their time playing video games (or maybe posting on internet message boards :p)? I’m pretty sure I was seeing lots of it even before the economic crash, but I will warrant there are plenty more of them now.

yes, that’s true. However the Japanese phenomenon may deserve special attention because:

  1. it may be more profoundly out of character “sinful” given the cultural environment and so more strongly calling for “repentance”. These people are not doing it because they enjoy being party animals, living for the moment or similar. They also live in a shame culture and so, presumably, many of them must be quite ashamed of the situation. So even if some do end up caught up in “live for the moment of computer game” rut, they might be more willing to snap out of it if better options are provided.

  2. Japan is a society more notable for competent and pro-active government or mixed public-private response to problems at hand than some other countries out there. If no credible response is forthcoming (beyond oh woe is me, let’s hire some female social workers) that’s interesting in and of itself.

  3. looking forward, we should expect this problem in its present form to continue in the economically stable Japan longer than in countries that may experience economic collapse in the not too distant future (you cannot live in your parents’ basement if your parents just went through foreclosure). Whereas economic collapse will not make youth underemployment disappear, it would significantly change the nature and structure of the problem, and so we will eventually have another thread to talk about that as a separate issue. By contrast, the Japanese NEET phenomenon as we now know it may continue for quite awhile into the future.

Further, if you consider NEET as a distinct market niche for goods and services, the Japanese ones may be preferable thanks to, again, the relative Japanese prosperity and favorable exchange rates.

People from relatively well-off families can afford to be lazy or take careers that are fun but low-paying. In the West, for example, the “cool” professions, such as journalism, are heavily populated by children of the rich, but they don’t wear t-shirts that say “my parents are decamillionaires.” This indulgence was not possible before Japan became wealthy.