Hikikomori Conclusion

23 02 2009


If we bring all the commentary together certain similarities become more clearly apparent. Broadly, we can consider these environment and identity.

‘The goal is to find ways of creating supportive, appropriate relationship that allow for personal and societal growth and development … in order to create school environments for the next generation of Japanese children.’ [pp. 216]

Hikikomori is not just a phenomena of Japan, though in sheer numbers it leads. Similar problems are emerging around the world. Such places as (my own) Great Britain, but also in the Asian tigers of Hong Kong and South Korea. I am not surprised by this. My studies of education systems worldwide postulates that the increasingly standardized, globalized education systems, are themselves key.

They increasingly become more piecemeal, more abstract and getting further and further from the direct needs of the overwhelming majority and the reality that they face, day to day. Wither, the full blown planetary crisis we are now in: does schoolwork with “the children are all our futures” deal in any meaningful way with that? Does it have even the space in its agenda, what with all those tests, et al?

Time to think how to prudently prepare them for a radically different future, just now visible on the horizon. Well, are they preparing our youth over whom they have absolute power, backed by Law? Are they?? The hikikomori have given-up on the present way, that of forced study. It is patently not working for all kids, and is falling down all over the world.

These hikikomori are making a protest with their very lives. It is a cry out for another way, one which acknowledges their identity. If we can give them an environment where they can prosper, be themselves, and not face a barrage of non-useful information, or being labelled as a freak, or worse. Are not the children who also react to all this, those who take their own life, really making the same point as the hikikomori? And also, these children are not usually suffering mental problems. Dr. Watanabe in the book text says, “In most of the cases the children are fine.” [pp. 86] “Troubled” kids are actually less troubled than many of their parents and teachers.” [pp. 78]

‘We are arguing that the “problem” is not “in” the child but rather “in” the system of communication.’ says Fogel & Kawai. And I would argue education is in the prime, a system of communication. Is it not possible, that the ultra sensitive, intelligent hikikomori are the canary in the mine shaft of our degrading world and with its many bankrupt systems now emerging?

Here is Kaz Ueyama, a local hiki-boy from Kobe, “I couldn’t find any motivation to attend class. Why do I have to go to school where I’m not allowed to pursue my own intellectual interests, like history and philosophy, but have to memorize dates and names for college entrance exams?” [pp. 54]

“Hikikomori kids don’t have a way out … To survive in Japan you have to kill off your own original voice.” [pp. 57] He discovered on the web, sites concerning post-traumatic stress disorder. Did Kaz diagnose himself as PTSS? “Doomed to failure” and so have withdrawn from society, which in fact “set them up for failure” wrote James Young on the internet.

And the perfidious agent, I maintain again is, the education system. And anyway, why does an individual, unique and gifted, need a mass system at all? One based on the lowest common denominator of all? Why does accepted wisdom always advocate an eventual return to the system? As in ‘It is essential in all forms of bridging the child feels safe and protected.’ [pp. 213] The authors suggest ‘The fourth level of Japanese bridging frames – the return to school.’ [pp. 214] ‘It is the family and school which sets the agenda’

These lost young adults can prosper only in an open, flexible and a trusting environment. This is recognized as implicit in my own research. It is just therefore a case of doing it. Let us just see.

A Blueprint for a Way Forward

This long term research focuses on engaging Youth – all of them – by using their talents, skills, abilities all of which are often unique to each. I would set up a programme that would harness this — the power of youth and youth dreams, to haul them out, step by step, from the darkness. The programme will be a trajectory to education, good citizenship and yes, a happier life.

My early findings found that it is the system itself which (for some) works against children identity and environment. These – those that do not fit in – are run over like a trawler churning up the seabed of their childhood, flattening their young lives. Democracy Reaches the Kids does the opposite to this. A simple alternate curriculum, a framework, whereby ‘the kids that don’t fit in’ are given a clear alternate route to education, and led to success that way.

Identity ‘If the child is allowed to play a role in developing solution the child is more likely to make a commitment in the eventual resolution.’ [pp. 215]

The Adjusted Alternate Education Framework allows the individual student to decide when (and where) they will study. Who will be your teacher. (This includes themselves via the net.) How much time to spend or will it be none at all. Subjects, they select them.

Of course society DOES have certain requirements, expectations. These subjects I have suggested. If after they are explained, honestly, and still a kid wants to abandon something, or is not ready yet, not until later perhaps, then so be it. It is their democratic life after all.

However, these are smart people, too. For the most part, and maybe after other things done first, and a change of mind or two. Fine. The door of education will always be open to them, to us all.

Environment Those from within the Japanese culture cannot easily address this problem. Japanese culture, may be a factor for this social problem, an outsider is in a better position. First, do we necessarily need to be in “school?” As the saying goes, ‘the whole world is my oyster.’ Much can be done from an isolated bedroom. Education is just getting information into a persons head, where and how, and whereby is not an issue. [Winston Churchill, for example, just read books.]

One could indeed gain an education based on the Internet alone, as some have done. So these just need a qualifying authority. A sort of Open University, as pioneered in GB. But we can go a step further. Not arbitrary subjects selected by tradition and by some faceless entity, but ones own private studies and leanings. All has value.

We can proceed with Adjusted Alternate Education Framework a trail programme, set-up in Kobe. I postulate the setting-up of a loose framework which would give the spirit of ‘community,’ using a mostly empty building on the campus. A core task will to be bolster local/national culture. As said, ‘Japan will never lose its long history.’ [pp. 216]

In western approach there is more input from the child and more room for the child’s autonomy some sort of challenge is presented to the withdrawn. (Fogel & Kawai) They say: ‘At the first level of Western bridging frames some type of challenge is presented to the child who is withdrawn.’ [pp. 214] I suggest a much bigger bridge, wider. Examples I read included the Shikoku shrines, adventure, using tents. At any rate always an open environment.

‘It is essential in all forms of bridging the child feels safe and protected.’ [pp. 213]

‘At the second level of Western bridging frames the child is asked to articulate his fears, concerns.’

Open, ‘mutually respectful, accepting produce a sense of relieve in the child because of being understood at a deep emotional level.’ [pp.215]

At a special Hikikomori meeting in Seoul, 2008, they spoke of the terrible need to avoid the isolation of affected families. This is urgent and should be confronted at the earliest. I stand ready to immediately take this into the field and begin in earnest the great and sensitive task of creating a safe environment for these intelligent young Japanese and thereby also give hope to their traumatised families.

It only remains for the model to be set-up and running. I have no doubt that from reading the literature that Democracy Reaches the Kids! can have a positive, potentially galvanizing effect on the dynamics surrounding the hikkikomori phenomena. Once again these children may re-enter the sunlight. Let’s begin in Kobe! Thank you

George Meegan / Kobe / 23rd February 2009

With special thanks to Mr. Masahisa Okuyama, founder of the Hikikomori Support Association (KHJ) and his Advisor, Mr. Suguru Sato. For material sent, including ‘Hikikomori – A Dynamic Systems Theory Perspective’ by Fogel & Kawai, and the web addresses.

Fukae campus, the old KUMM gave me the space to workout ‘Democracy Reaches the Kids.’ Author Michael Zielenziger and Vintage Press for ‘Shutting Out the Sun – How Japan Created its own Lost Generation.’ The BBC for their film ‘The Mystery of the Missing Million.’

Hikikomori Part 2

23 02 2009

Part Two Comment on the BBC film ‘The Mystery of the Missing Million’ [Found on the Internet] This was also shown on Belgium television. (Some punctuation, added). These stray comments generally support the approach I recommend:-

Sarah Hyde UK:- “I agree, that the education system can be partly responsible for the problem.”

Micheal Kingham, academic for 34-years:- “The potential for 40% of the population (given the right circumstances and triggers) to become psychotic.”

Michael Z. Kruszynski, UK:- “To call this behaviour uniquely Japanese is utterly naïve, shortsighted” {Apparently, entrenched in Italy, growing in Germany, that land of the eternal student.}

Anon UK:- a hikikomori:- “There is nothing wrong with my seclusion … if I became a monk, would that be a problem?” Michael Vaughan tells of his half-Japanese relative, who eventually came through it:- “A bright, intelligent and lively boy became very withdrawn.”

Anon UK:- “I wanted to know the meaning of life. I am only fit for cabbage brain jobs, even though I have a university degree.” James UK, age 13, taught himself history, world affairs, science, etc., all through books and television. “I only found I wasn’t being myself.”

Dr. Erica Warner, who is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist:- “My own son had locked himself away for the past two or three years.”

Anon UK:- “Not encouraging their kids to be themselves marks the greatest failure of Japanese parents.” Helen Hamilton, UK and concerning the TV and or PC are often found in 21st Century bedrooms:- “We only went there at night to sleep. Perhaps today the child is being conditioned to live in their room – literally!”

Eliza, UK:- “Cleared out everything, other than a mattress and a table where he eats all his food.”

James, UK:- “There needs to be more awareness, and subsequent education. To help young people cope with the changing world.”

A Graduate student studying history at CSU, Stanislaus:- “The sense that one is forced to behave under a suffocating series of prescribed rules, and the sense that withdrawing from these expectations is the only way to survive.”

James – an Australian, a former teacher in Japan:- “Wow! What’s going on with the Japanese school system? The whole idea of cram schools is insane, children at age 12-year shown in the docu should not be exposed to that sort of emotional and physical strain. If that had been me at 12/15 I would have crawled into my room and locked the door too! How many of these young people are ‘bucking ‘the system and trying to strike out on their own, to find some of their own individuality?”

“One more frightening aspect of Japanese culture found during my teaching experience is that most young people don’t have big dreams or aspirations. They are content with mediocrity. For example you ask 16-years old that their dream job is and more than likely they will answer an office worker. One major problem with Japanese education system is that the students never get chance to use their imaginations, creativity or analytical skills. At school all they need is an excellent memory to succeeded.” I surveyed this myself. {Meegan}.

I asked my Japanese student classes this, and wrote on the board. “It is said that Japanese students have the smallest spirit among any others in the world.” In most countries this would, I guess, be considered outrageous, indeed insulting. Not in Japan. Majorities, reaching up to the high 80s agreed! Sada: “Materials were already prepared. We had a house, car, PC so what else should we buy? Of course people work not only for money, but it seems to me true, that money encourages the working. What kind of dream can children have in such circumstances? That is the reality that Japanese society is encountering now.”

“Hikikomori does not start as mental illness, but with time it is just as debilitating. Other cultures use drugs. To cope with their dissatisfaction of society … As well as ease of access to any sort of information without leaving room. I sympathize with the hikikomori, the word is aspects of a terrible place and those that don’t fit in would naturally want to withdraw.”

Danish Human Arts student at Roskide University: “The Japanese education system and Japanese society and culture on the whole play a very important role.”

Kenneth: “I think that self system communication classes should be mandatory at high school. It is our societal obligation to prevent such terrible occurrence.”

Renae: “Chaotic atmosphere of everyday life, rapidly consuming people and their lives. The hunger for material possessions is becoming increasingly disturbing. The young are taught by their parents that to have money is to be successful. If we have then power to build the present then we can shape the future, the potential is endless provided we keep our eyes and hearts open.”

Lotus: “I believe that if we fail at school or anything that modern man is based open, there is nothing to fall back on at all.”

Hikkikomori – Canary in the mineshaft? Part 1

23 02 2009


FRGS, AFRIN Associated Professor Graduate School of Maritime SciencesKobe University

5-1-1, Fukae Minami, Kobe, JAPAN 658-0022

E-mail: meegan@maritime.kobe-u.ac.jp

Phone : +81-78-431 6200

Fax : +81-78-431 6365

New Approach of Hope

This is not an academic paper in the usual sense, but is my thinking based on my earlier research. My writing following suggests I believe, a hopeful alternative to the hikikomori, whereby they can become fully educated, but on their own terms, in their time and when and how they themselves decide.

According to my reading the education system itself is said to be an important cause in triggering this phenomena. It could in fact be the prime cause for hikikomori, as it exists in other parts of the world which have zero Japanese culture dynamics. The only thing common seems to be modern, mass schooling and that’s found almost everywhere. So, this being so then an answer, a least in part, should lie in mass schooling. If we can provide a viable alternative to that then we can certainly hope for improvement. That’s where I come in. I have in fact developed such an alternative. It is entitled Democracy Reaches the Kids. {Here called this or also correctly called Adjusted Alternate Education Framework.} Considerations of the theory underpinning such a programme have already appeared in Kobe Journal, etc. passim] I also sent this framework curriculum to likely the highest panel of peers in the USA. They judged it, and sent it back together with the US “extraordinary” visa. {On the US government website they state the qualifications for such an award: they offer as example the Nobel Prize.} Therefore, I think, we can take heart that Democracy Reaches the Kids is fundamentally sound and practically workable. So, I think, you can have confidence in this.

Lets begin were I began. I initially became aware of this startling hikikomori phenomenon from a book entitled ‘Shutting Out the Sun – How Japan Created its own Lost Generation’ by Michael Zielenziger. [Vintage Press] The follow up literature that I have seen would seem to offer little by way of answer, not much real hope. The dedication of the book was for a Japanese young man, Kenji. At present there maybe over one million others in Japan like Kenji. “What do we do when half the population is hikikomori?” asked one speaker in the book. With this urgency in mind I proceed. I have pulled out key quotes, importantly including what the hikikomoro themselves say. What they ask (and alas which, modern education rarely gives them) is actually covered by my earlier research, that into ‘kids that don’t fit in.’ It may also offer hope to hikiknomori. I understand that many are said to be sensitive and often very bright. I am confident that given a genuinely new approach to learning then we can begin to reach these many fine young Japanese caught in this web. I do understand that many are said to be sensitive and often very bright. I am confident that we can together create a liberating outcome.

Part One I take the liberty of going through the following paper; this kindly sent to me by KHJ and their esteemed advisor, Mr. Suguru Sato. I have underscored items which dovetail in some way with my own research into school system failure. Some paraphrasing, quotes in 12 Point. These are the “Notes.” Hikikomori – A Dynamic Systems Theory Perspective by Alan Fogel, University of Utah and Mastoshi Kawai, Mukogawa Woman’s University. The scale of the problem is indicated by this: ‘Hikikomori comprise about 20% of all male adolescents and about 1% of the population of Japan.’ [pp. 206] Here is spoken of the need to change the child to “fit in.”

How about changing the school method so that all from any point of view can automatically fit in? This is what my adjusted schooling framework does. ‘The conventional way to understand this problem is to assume that it resides within the child and to alleviate the problem. We need to find a way to change the child to fit in more with social expectations.’ [pp. 206] A call for another route is surly indicated when children abandon one size fit all school, where no allowance is made for their unique individuality – and they are not sick! ‘… who leave school for long periods are not otherwise diagnosed as schizophrenic or depressed’ – Miiki (2002)’ [pp.207]

One answer attempted was moving sufferers in together with other hikikomori. ‘often against their will.’ [pp.207] We are looking in at a system problem. Both Kondo (2001) and Yoshikawa and Murakami (2001) describe hikikomori as a problem within the family system, rather than simply a problem within the youth. ‘We have written that hikikomori needs to be understood from a dynamic systems perspective.’ (Fogel & Kawai, 2006) Concerning self isolation in their rooms, etc.

I offer a bridging frame. An education alternative which can change the frame as the authors suggest here: ‘Can these problematic consensual frames be changed? ‘The system of relationships must change … and that means stepping outside the familiar frame … Bridging frames are useful to help make a developmental transition between existing and emerging frames. Typically, bridging frames contain elements of both the existing and emerging frames … and have the purpose of allowing people in a relationship to “try out” new ways.’ [pp. 208]

The authors also note the reality of one of the fearsome hurdles at the end of the line in modern, mass schooling: [pp. 208] ‘Children and their parents were also under intense stress during times of entrance examinations, in which a child’s identity depended upon passing or failing.’ [pp. 208] The authors talk of the comradeship that can be found on the net. Internet companions can be more available than any real person. A former hikikomori boy wrote and said:- “Love exchange texts all day.”

Adjusted Alternate Education Framework can easily use this as an approach to these self- isolated folk. It also confirms their intelligence: ‘Adolescents who are typically shy, sensitive and intelligent … Hikikomori is a closing of the border of the child’s world to outsiders. With a small bridge to the outside world via the internet.’ [pp. 208] There is no need, as in the US, for families to try to get the refuser back to the very cause of the problem in the first place. ‘Actively encourage school return.’ [pp. 208]

ACTION for CHILDREN – Beginning: ‘those that don’t fit in’

30 01 2009

I don’t know about yourself, but for me, after so many activities and actions here and everywhere, I felt that it was about time to get something down, like solid, while I still have the chance.

I could see the problem right enough, and it revolves around kids and the future! For God sake, what kind of world we leaving to them? Clearly, the spaceship, the planet we call Earth – our only home in the vastness – is degrading. What to do? What to do?

So, I created a framework which can allow – at last – our children, who are the inheritors of it all, to be best equipped to deal with the future. A future where the rules of life are being rudely redrawn. For this and other reasons, I turned to education and its renewal.

By harnessing the great power of Youth itself. By recognizing ALL their talents, abilities and yes, dreams. By allowing all to ‘become the best they can be.’ So much of what they will have to deal with is not addressed by school. It has become a vast amalgam specialized to the point of practical uselessness. This nonsense has got to end.

Preserving your own culture, knowing where you come from, speaking your language, understanding your heritage and its teachings, are all important things that ‘school’ has ignored.

In the process of this very broad thrust, I got the USA to (nobly) say “sorry” (and officially) to the Indian Peoples. That led me to stand inside the tragic school [Red Lake, Minn.] where the blood of 17 had washed, shot and wounded. In Alaska, with singular honour, I embraced the last speaker, and last of the Alaskan Eyak People, Chief Marie Smith-Jones.

Education renewal is the key to greater safety in Indian country; these and other catastrophes are preventable. And the application far beyond, the safety and happiness of all children is right there, too. It is for real. Join me in better securing the future.

Call for Support

Up to now many important things have been done toward guiding our youth, and supporting their families, towards a full education and yes, better ensuring the happiness of call concerned in a dangerous and changing world.

All my actions of the last 16-years, if not a lot longer, have been in this direction. You know, the toughest agency in the US, they gave me a special visa called “extraordinary.” That is, they recognized the sweeping education alternative being blogged here, to be one of the 300 ideas which could – if implemented – transform America itself. That it could effect a sea-change in the dangerous world of the American Young, that which has already done much too distort life in the Great Democracy.

As much has been done, as can be done, I think. To move to the next stage and act on the firmly established groundwork will need funding. If you have thoughts, or capacity, in this then we can grasp together this vast hope?

I am at your service and I am at georgemeegan@gmail.com

George Meegan