Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

An article in the BBC News about hikikomori a common form of mental illness in Japan where kids lock themselves up in their room and don't come out. They say it is a unique Japanese phenomenon. I think we should look at the mental illness issue in Japan generally. As I keep writing here, suicides are among the top in the world as well. Many people have the misconception that just because Japanese sing karaoke and go drinking a lot, Japanese don't have stress. But it's the "don't worry... just try harder..." speech during these drinking sessions that drive people into mental collapse. There is a word in Japanese, gambatte, which doesn't have an equivalent English term, but means something like "work harder" but with a nuance that you will be rewarded with praise if you do. This word is an example of the "work harder" ethic which I think is a problem. Working harder doesn't necessarily lead to working smarter. In fact, many people who work hard avoid thinking or making hard decisions and end up in a mess. I call it kurushimi no bigaku or "the aesthetic of suffering" which makes everything OK if you tried hard enough. Bah!

BBC News
Sunday, 20 October, 2002, 19:50 GMT 20:50 UK Japan: The Missing Million By Phil Rees Reporting from Japan for Correspondent Teenage boys in Japan's cities are turning into modern hermits - never leaving their rooms. Pressure from schools and an inability to talk to their families are suggested causes. Phil Rees visits the country to see what the "hikikomori" condition is all about.


This was on yesterday; author B'wong Qlaz sees parallels between this hikikomori condition and quick-rising rates of autism in California.

Also, the piece has a link to a smart essay by Ryu Murakami. I like that he sees this as a sign of technology/virtual world saturation, perhaps preceeding a Japanese-societal shift towards individual decision-making. Nihon, ganbatte!

(I try to use Ganbatte like "good luck!" but I guess that's not too exact. Maybe "persevere through the struggle" but that's not right either. I gotta learn how to say something else - like "kouen o inoru" something like that - Sen tried to teach me and I wrote it in sloppy hiragana in an old notebook. It should mean, "i pray for you as you're going off to battle" which actually might have weird WWII overtones. Maybe just "congratulations for leaving your bedroom today" will become the new friendly, supportive phrase here.

I think you want the phrase "Ko-un Wo Inoru" -- which is like "I am praying for good luck for you".

Some of Japanese are looking for an alternative to 'gambatte' but we haven't found any good one...

Hikikomori is not always be autism or Asperger. Usually, it is a mix of depression, social causes and their personality. Hikikomori is a very mediagenic word which has no rigid definition. Anyhow, it shows the need of alternatives to Japanese military-style-schools and 'shushin koyo'(literally lifetime-employment).

I could not stand with schools, so I haven't received any formal education other than elementary:-) It'll be very much better if there is a wide choice of schools... (i could be qualified as 'hikikomori', if it was today...)

I'm fascinated with the hikikimori phenomenon. I'm convinced that it represents an attempt at acheiving personal autonomy. The people who do it are citizens of the most advanced economy in the world; it's obvious Japan replaced the USA in this sense a long time ago. Japanese have more jobs, more money and more social integration than Americans, they work hard and fit in better.

But the cost of this is that one loses personal autonomy; it is a stereotype that the Japanese are excessively polite, over-socialised and live in a rigid heirarchy; the ideal social model for an advanced industrial society in many ways, and one Westerners are emulating, with our increasingly stratified class system and "low wage, long hours" economies.

If the West is heading the same way (the bits that don't descend into completely anarchic violence that is) we are going to see a lot more of this. As the economy becomes more competetive, more people look to drop out of it, despite the fact, as shown by Baudrillard, that there is no "out" to drop into. This is not the 1960's.

(pimping time!) As my story linked here shows, the people who will succumb to this lifestyle are likely to be the intelligent, easily stressed out parts of the unemployed populations, who know how to make money on the Net or through adroit manipulation of our vestigial social benefits systems; this "hikikimori world" could end up comprising millions of people...

Essentially, mental illness as a revolutionary act. We have nothing to lose but our polluted and terrifying world.

I am not ok with what you wrote that "gambatte" would mean.
Isn't it much more something like: "keep on giving your best" or "be/stay strong". So much more in the meaning on "Keep on fighting!" and no MORE or BETTER, just not giving up.(gambaru = keep on working hard on sth.?)

In my view the problem of mental illness not only serious in Japan it’s a hot issue in every country.