Following recent stabbing incidents involving middle-aged hikikomori, or social recluses, and their parents, the number of inquiries received by support groups and similar organizations that support such individuals has surged.
A stabbing rampage in Kawasaki by a recluse and the murder of a reclusive man by his father, a former top agriculture ministry bureaucrat, in Tokyo have seen extensive coverage, and have prompted some hikikomori and their families to further distance themselves from society, experts have said.
Following the two incidents, Rakunokai Lila, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization supporting social recluses, was swamped by phone calls from people seeking advice. Many of the calls came from recluses in their 40s and 50s.
“I can’t go outside for fear of being seen in public,” one such individual was quoted as saying. Requests for advice from parents also increased, the support group said.
“The most difficult thing is to call for help the first time,” said Otochika Ichikawa, a 72-year-old senior official of the support group, whose daughter was once a social recluse.
“The stabbing incidents became a turning point in a way, in that they led to encourage people (to seek help), and we hope to continue providing support,” Ichikawa said.
One challenge is how to help those who have not reached out or called for help.
Many reclusive people feel rejected by society or have a sense of inferiority over not securing work, and their parents sometimes have similar feelings due to the criticism they see aimed at their children.
Strong fears of prejudice in the wake of the shocking stabbing incidents have also made them reluctant to seek external support, the group said.
Ichikawa said he is concerned that some social recluses may “become further isolated and make the wrong decisions,” citing past problems in which such people and their families felt pushed into a corner and then sometimes considered killing themselves.
Consultation requests are accepted by private support groups as well as regional support centers and welfare offices across the country.
Noting that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has abolished age limits for consultations from social recluses, Rakunokai Lila noted that the position taken by administrative organizations toward the issue is changing.
“You can consult with any such organization as they can work together,” Ichikawa said.
“The state of shutting oneself in for a long time cannot be resolved only by family members,” he said. “The important thing is to call for help from anyone, including relatives who are living separately.”