Introduction: Hikikomori, a term referred to a person who is in social withdrawal, and who has strictly confined him/herself in a room or house for a continuous period of six months or more, had attracted significant media and academic attention. Hikikomori have no previous diagnosis of existing mental-illness, and because of abrupt onset and association with negative media reports, the phenomenon had created tension and raised public health concerns. The interesting phenomena that arose with this problem among academics were debates about etiology and interventions. This study used a mixed-methods qualitative approach to explore hikikomori.
Purpose: This study was designed to explore the nature of hikikomori experience and investigated the phenomenon of hikikomori, comparing and contrasting findings with the previous studies and claims, using grounded theory analysis of qualitative data.
Methods: A mixed-methods approach was necessarily adopted to recruit the sample. Snowball sampling methods and virtual participant observation approaches were adopted to circumvent the difficulties in both identifying and recruiting participants.
Data analysis: Grounded theory approach to qualitative analysis.
Results: Eight respondents were recruited using snowball sampling methods, and 160 participants were observed of the virtual participant observation method. Analysis produced three emergent themes, “Coping”, “Trust”, and “Existence”. Each theme comprised one or more categories, which in turn evidenced a number of different elements. Definitive characteristics of hikikomori were obtained from respondents through virtual participant observation. The emergent theoretical framework and the list are mutually supportive in the results obtained from this study, which suggested emotional pain exists in hikikomori in relation to human relationships. The results of the present study suggest that hikikomori is characterized by more diffuse features, including difficulties in coping with people or tasks, difficulties with trust, unhappiness about life and poor concept of time. There was no evidence of violent or aggressive behaviours.
Conclusion: The findings in this study suggest that hikikomori should not be taken lightly nor be considered comparable to depression, agoraphobia or other mental illness. The differences between self-perceived and other-perceived characteristics of hikikomori suggest existing interventions may be inappropriate, and challenges the perspective of time and target subjects. Data suggested that most Hikikomori are deeply unhappy about life and have a low quality of life and poor self-esteem, suggesting early intervention is most likely to be beneficial. The data also suggests that hikikomori is not a cultural-bound social illness limited only to Japanese, but a growing cross-cultural phenomenon.