Training module: What is Hikikomori?

We are experiencing a period which is characterized by several urgent challenges on a socio-educational dimension. The recent events connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fast improvements in technological issues, the need to be “always connected”, have modified our social interactions, bringing benefits but also many critical aspects. Children and adolescents have particularly been affected by this condition, which has limited for a long time their possible social contacts and their involvement in collaborative activities face-to-face and outdoor.

As showed by OECD reports (2020)[1], in the period of the pandemic, the main concerns for young people expressed by social organizations are related to the impairment of their mental health conditions. Critical situations may have been exacerbated by the forced isolation and worry and anxiety about their own health and that of their loved ones. All these issues may lead several children, adolescents, and young adults to retire from social life, limiting their contacts with the outside world and becoming highly dependent on the technology for communicating. This condition, quite recent in Europe, has been already examined, at the end of the XX° Century in the Japanese society by the psychiatrist Saito Tamaki (1998)[2]. Tamaki noticed that some adolescents and young adults tended to retire from social life, giving up school, leaving work, ceasing to meet their friends, for living most of their time in their room. They did not present specific mental disorder that may justify this condition. So, why did they decide to live isolated from others? This condition may be also related to the social and cultural environment in which children live: if they perceived that the only solution for their difficulties is social withdrawal, they may become as young people studied by Tamaki, namely hikikomori. Hikikomori is a Japanese term composed by two worlds,

HIKU (= push)


KOMORU (= to avoid, to run from)

which means “to stay apart”. In hikikomori condition, the main characteristics is the role of social withdrawal, which is here the main symptom, contrary to what happens for specific mental disorders (depression, social anxiety, schizophrenia, etc.) where withdrawal is a consequence of the pathology itself. Hikikomori seems a specific condition in which children and adolescents decide to reduce their involvement in the social life of their context of life. It can be distinguished from spefic psychological disorders, although some of them may occur in conjuction with the condition of social withdrawal.

The impact of this condition in Japanese society has lead the government to adopt specific policies to face it. In this perspective, a definition of hikikomori has been given in 2010 by Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW, Saito, 2010) in the Guidelines for evaluation and supports of hikikomori. This definition includes three main features:

  1. Staying at home for most of the day;
  2. No social participation in attending school or working (social withdrawal);
  3. The condition has to last al least for six months.

But what is the situation about Hikikomori outside Japan? Recently, many research studies have highlighted the presence of similar conditions in many countries all around the world. European countries are currently interested in examining this phenomenon among young people. Evidence of the spread of social withdrawal among preteens and adolescents emerged in Croatia, Spain, Finland, France, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Russia, and Ukraine. Outside Europe, while outside Europe several studies have examined the hikikomori condition in Brazil, US, Canada, Korea, Australia, India, Thailand, Honk Kong, and Bangladesh.

[1] OECD (2020). Youth and COVID-19. Response, Recovery, and Resilience. OECD,

[2] Tamaki, S. (1998). Hikikomori, Adolescence without end. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email