Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Co-Researching Hikikomori Problem with Insiders' Knowledges: Creating 'Nakama' (Comradeship) across the Ocean & Generations

Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Co-Researching Hikikomori Problem with Insiders' Knowledges: Creating 'Nakama' (Comradeship) across the Ocean & Generations

Article excerpt

Domina nt discou rse a rou nd Hikiko mori phenomenon

The Ministry of Health and Welfare in Japan defines hikikomori as a phenomenon where one stays inside one's home for more than six months without any (physical) social participation, such as school, work, and other forms of social interaction outside of the home (Saito, 2007). Hikikomori is an increasingly and internationally recognised phenomenon. Wikipedia, a common source of dominant knowledge, says that there are more than 3 million hikikomori people in Japan (Wikipedia, n.d.). The same Ministry states that the hikikomori phenomenon is commonly associated with a long list of mental health 'disorders' such as anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and pervasive development disorder (PDD). Hikikomori people are most often either pathologised or socially blamed as lazy, weak-minded, spoiled, internet-addicted young people, who potentially pose threats to future generations.

To briefly situate myself within the context of this co-research project, at the age of twenty I moved to Vancouver in Canada from Japan (where I was born and grew up), without plans but with reckless hope to experience adventure and inspiration. I was rebellious, money-less, and fearless. When I first heard about the hikikomori phenomenon from my friend who works closely and passionately with hikikomori people, I felt like I was a complete outsider to such an experience. At the same time, however, I had a strong feeling that their single story seemed too incomplete. The majority of books and articles on the hikikomori phenomenon are written by so-called 'experts' who have never experienced hikikomori life firsthand but somehow felt equipped to title their books as 'manuals' on how to exit hikikomori life. Joan Nestle (2003) says, 'Wherever there is a lack of existence of stories told in a people's voice, then there is a work to do' (p. 62). With my firm belief that there must be stories and memories of courage, desire and strength to be uncovered, I embarked on this journey of co-researching the hikikomori phenomenon through learning from the wealth of insiders' knowledge from the position of an outsider.

Unexpected u nfolding of the co-research project

This project unfolded itself with series of unexpected turns. The first and biggest challenge was, 'How am I going to get in touch with these hikikomori insiders when they are in extreme isolation and not interacting with others?' After many unsuccessful attempts to get co-operation from private agencies that serve hikikomori people, I ended up finding an online forum that listed 'ex-hikikomori' bloggers. My assumption was that if they are calling themselves 'exhikikomori' and currently blogging, the chance that they are interested in sharing their insider knowledges (Epston & White, 1992) with others, may be higher. So I contacted over thirty ex-hikikomori bloggers and got two responses.

Chie is a thirty-six-year-old woman who was hikikomori from the age of 16 to 26. She happily agreed to participate in this project even though she was in the middle of studying for high school equivalence exams in order to go to university. Numaebi is a twenty-year-old man who was hikikomori from the age of 17 to 18. He also happily agreed to share his experience even though he is currently struggling to get out of the house. As both of them are in Japan, I decided to interview them by email over the course of two months.

During the process, I was unexpectedly introduced to Keishiro, who is a twenty-eight-year-old ex-hikikomori man currently living in Vancouver, Canada. He was hikikomori from the age of 21 to 26. He was very intrigued by the concept of 'outsider-witness' practice and happily agreed to try outsider witness for the stories of Chie and Numaebi through in-person meetings in Vancouver. In order to make sure that I could give something meaningful back to Keishiro, I asked his support worker, Yuka, to offer outsider witness for Keishiro's story. …

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